Friday, May 27, 2022

A Star Wars Celebration

As we all know, the film that started it all opened in movie theaters on May 25th, 1977. We, the fans of that galaxy far, far away, observe the 4th as a celebration of all things Star Wars because even Jedi and Sith enjoy a good pun. Hmm. Do you think it's a Banking Clan Holiday? Do New Republic Pilots gets the day off or maybe time and a half if they work that day?

Today, the 27th of May, we celebrate the premiere of the Obi-Wan Kenobi streaming series on Disney+, which just so happens to fall on the second day of the Star Wars Celebration 2022 event in Anaheim, California.

That's a Bantha load of Star Wars and Celebrating going on!

This year just so happens to mark the 45th Anniversary of the Star Wars franchise and as I've been mentioning over the past five months and change, it's also my 45th RPG Gaming Anniversary! Too cool!

I'm currently running a Star Wars tabletop RPG campaign using West End Games' classic D6 system (Second Edition) entitled, Star Wars: Gray Territories. I've mentioned it on the blog before and even recapped one half of the first session. The game turned out great and we've kept going so I thought a great way to celebrate May the 4th, and the 25th, AND the 27th this year would be to talk about why Gray Territories works so dang well. 

Inspired by Tim Knight of HeroPress, I declare this the first of a possible series of posts called: What Went Right?

Let's get started...

Corellian Gunship Design and Model by Edoardo Figini
Rendered by Howard Day

It felt like Star Wars

When running a game based on an IP (as I so often do) it's vital to get the feel of the film's/show's/comic book's/whatever just right (or as close as you can get it). If it is supposed to be taking place in the Star Wars universe, it better remind everyone playing of Star Wars and not make them think of something else. This is done not just by adding in familiar aliens, droids, locations, or concepts, but also by analyzing the particulars of Star Wars and embracing them. 

For example, Star Wars never spends too much time on a single world. When I run Star Wars I make sure we are only on a given planet for a single adventure. That adventure may last a couple of sessions but my preference is no more than one story on one planet. More than one planet in a story is fine, great even, but you should never spend too much time on a single world since Star Wars [usually] doesn't.

When playing Star Wars: Gray Territories over Discord we only really play for 2 to 2 1/2 hour sessions. Very short by my standards but that's all we've got. My usual in person games are 6-8 hours. So this means we are only on one particular planet for three online sessions, tops. 

The players contributed to the Star Wars feel by making very Star Wars oriented characters; PCs who you could see as protagonists in a Disney+ live action or animated series. This particular group has a real knack for this. In addition, they deeply invest and immerse themselves in the setting and create characters they really want to play, mentally go over them to make sure they do something both familiar and a little bit new within the particulars of the IP. 

Bohde, Former Guardian of the Whills (Maybe),
Dunbolgo the Dug Mechanic and
Ex-Imperial Army Commando Xim Darrol

We were on the same page

You might think that this is a given. How could the players and I not be on the same page when we all decided to play a Star Wars RPG campaign. Oh, if it were only that simple.

There is a lot of Star Wars out there. We've had nine movies, four animated series, three seasons of live-action television/streaming, innumerable novels, comic books, reference books, video games, and a plethora of lore in other forms. That is a lot of material and let's be honest, its quality and consistency varies wildly. 

When running a game based on an IP, it's easy to assume that all the participants are seeing and thinking about it the same way but that most assuredly isn't always the case. Not everyone has watched all of the CGI animated Clone Wars and Rebels series episodes. Some players love Star Wars Legends (the pre-Disney Expanded Universe), while others aren't overly familiar with those stories. Some love the Sequel Trilogy and others have taste. 

Heheh. Sorry. I kid, I kid. 

One reason Gray Territories works so well is that all the players and myself as GM agree that the core of Star Wars is the Original Trilogy and that The Mandalorian rocks. That's it. That's all that absolutely matters to us and to the campaign.

Sure we have a Dug, an alien species from the Prequel Era. One PC is a former Guardian of the Whills, an element of Star Wars lore we first see in the film Rogue One. The point isn't that we all think the Original Trilogy is AWESOME and everything else sucks and doesn't count as 'REAL' Star Wars. It's that we all agree that the Original Trilogy and The Mandalorian are what we like best and what forms the core of our game. These things matter the most to our campaign and everything else is viewed, 'that might be in there too'. 

It moved quickly

Time is a commodity and speed is of the essence, so it is vital that a session flow at a solid pace. As I've mentioned before, 90% of the games I've participated in for the first 35 years of my time in the hobby have moved incredibly fast. By comparison, those over the past 10 years have gone much too slowly. Much. Too. Slowly. Slow pacing is awesome for the purposes of drama or getting to know the PCs in a role-playing sense but the rest of the time things should move at the speed of excitement. 

Games that fall within the Action/Adventure genre should vary between fast and breakneck speeds much of the time. Things that help or hinder this pacing include the GM implying a sense of urgency, complexity and execution of the rules, and the players matching the implied urgency and thinking rapidly. Stopping the flow of the game to spend twenty minutes figuring out how you're going to walk into a room completely drains the excitement out of the moment and many players I know take more time than that. Often a lot more. 

Nothing irks me more than listening to players planning out every detail so as to avoid any sort of potential energy a sequence might have. Players want to avoid harm to their PCs, ensure their chances of reaching their objective, and/or impede the bad guys. Understandable. Unfortunately, a lot of players seem to feel that until that one perfect strategy that accomplishes all these goals can be constructed, they'll just keep talking about doing something rather than actually doing something. 

This group does not do that. This party of PCs realize #1) nothing and no one is perfect, #2) Star Wars goes fast, and #3) if they think and react quickly than I as GM must think and react quickly.

Newsflash Gamers: The longer you take to come up with a plan and the more complex it is, the more time you are giving the GM to find holes in it. Think fast. Do something.

Everybody wanted everyone to have fun

This can't be emphasized enough: Far too many times, I've participated in games where one person thought they [or their character] were the focus of the game. This player, or even a GM, would make it clear that the game had to contain X elements, or not contain Y elements, and Z absolutely HAD to happen or they weren't going to have fun. As such, they would make sure no one else has a good time either since they didn't get their way. 

Don't be that person. 

Be like the guys from my Gray Territories group. If someone makes a suggestion, 'Yes and' it. If they aren't sure about something and they solicit advice, give them some options. Don't be bothered if they don't take your suggestions because maybe something you said inspired an idea of their own instead and that is awesome!

Don't be a player who suggests additional obstacles or negative consequences for another player at the table while they are taking their turn. If you are thinking, 'What? Who does that?!', than you are where I am fairly frequently in my other groups. I have one or two players who are constantly reminding me, the GM, of some penalty, an opponent I seem to have forgotten, or a condition that should make things harder for someone else; always someone else. We sometimes call it the, 'Teacher, you forgot to check our homework' syndrome. 

Be fans of your fellow gamers and their characters. Players, be a fan of your GM and GMs - obviously - be a fan of your players and their characters. This group definitely takes this to heart. Each player is supportive of all the other players moves, as well as the GM's plot and the collective creative choices made together by the group. 

We also have it where all those involved trust each other and trust is essential. If all the participants trust each other, they will ensure it all goes right.

There is more I could say on this group, this game, and all that is great about it but for now let's leave it here. I have some other things to discuss coming up this weekend so I will likely see you all soon.

Barking Alien

Hey, while I have you here don't forget...

The first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now available on Disney+.

Hmm. Do you think they mean old Ben Kenobi? We will see...

May The Force Be With You...Always.


Monday, May 23, 2022

Side Quest

Recently I've been considering starting a new campaign to replace my Wednesday night one, albeit temporarily.

Our Traveller campaign is on hold as one of the three players has just become a parent and is realizing just how much time and energy it takes caring for a tiny human being. While he and his amazing wife do time...sorry...take the time to do the whole 'have a baby' thing, he suggested the rest of us do a fill-in game..

The problem is, there are only two other players not including myself as GM. I can certainly run for two players but that isn't my preference [at all]. Followers of the blog know that I am both accustomed to and have a love of larger groups. Three is pretty much bare minimum for me. I've run 1-on-1 and two person games, a few with great success, but those feel like special cases and were all in-person. Online, if there isn't at least three, I always feel like I could be doing something else (including prepping material for another game).

There is also the matter of what to run. This group, with one removed, is very methodical, cautious, and hesitant to engage in bold, cinematic action. I on the other hand really enjoy bold, cinematic action. Big fan. This begs the question: Do I run a game that forces them outside of their comfort zone or that caters to the style of play they default to? Also, do I get another player who compliments the group by matching their approach or someone who will shake up the status quo and give me some daring-do?

Finally and perhaps most importantly for me as GM: What [kind of] game works best for strategic, mindful players prone to being a tad overly leery of taking chances?

I posed this question to one of my Social Media groups and was surprised by the responses I received. OK, that's not entirely true. I was not especially 'surprised'. I get that most people think a little differently from me on gaming subjects. It was more that in this particular case, I know it wasn't me; it wasn't the way I worded it or some failure in communication as some people did get it and so the answers from those who didn't stood out even more. 

A large number of responses suggested a Game System. Not a type of game, a genre, or a setting but instead a way of addressing this situation mechanically. Furthermore, they were particularly interested in supplying me with games that rewarded strategic planning and combat options. The remedy for risk adverse players is a more dangerous game?

Maybe. These players are quite accustomed to or at least familiar with playing such games. Ya'know, an RPG heavy on tactics and specific abilities given for dealing with specific situations. Games in which the Referee, perhaps best called a 'Danger Master' (wink), is out to get the Player Characters by making everyone and everything they encounter a deadly enemy or fatal trap. Likewise it was the Players' job to see that their PCs outwitted the DM and survived the constant onslaught to become rich, powerful, and famous. At least that's what'll happen if dice probability randomly allows them to survive to that state. After all, that's where the 'fun' comes in, right? (Eye roll).

I have met dozens upon dozens of gamers over the last decade or so who grew up on these types of games, resulting in Players whose instinct is to cover their private parts before entering a room or talking to an NPC. Players feel the need to cross all their Ts and dot all their Is less their PCs get killed off unceremoniously.

Now, not all Player cross Ts and dot Is as quickly as others do and so this phase of the game can therefore stretch out the time it takes to engage with and complete a given task. This makes what should be the most exciting part of a game - having a battle, dealing with a trap, negotiating with a potential patron, ally, or adversary - take way too much game time, making it feel tedious, even boring, and pulling the drama, thrill, and energy out of the scenario. 

Sorry, ranting a bit as I go through my thoughts on the subject. Where was I? Oh yes...

I guess there is some validity to suggesting a rules system to solve the problem of what kind of game works best for a particular gaming group and their dynamic. I tend to think system is the least of our concerns. What the game is about, how it rewards or discourages certain actions/approaches over others, and how the setting deals with PC life, death, and combat is far more important to me when developing a campaign. Once all that is worked out I can always find or make some system to support it. In fact, it is easier to do it this way, as I can customize the mechanics to showcase the feel and atmosphere of the game once I determine exactly what that is. 

Anyway, I already have some ideas and maybe, just maybe, a solution to the third player issue. 

We'll talk again soon,

Barking Alien

Sunday, May 15, 2022

New Horizons

A bold new chapter in one of my favorite Space Adventure franchises is about to begin...

Kenobi? Oh, right there's also Kenobi. I was thinking of...

Engage Quantum Drive and get some music for these elevators!

The third season of The Orville, entitled The Orville: New Horizons, begins on Thursday, June 2nd. In the United States it will air on the streaming service Hulu. There will be 11 episodes, two less than the previous season but each episode will be roughly 15 minutes longer. 

In addition, the make-up, sets, and effects - already incredibly impressive for television - looks  to have gotten a heck of a boost. A new bridge set, improved practical effects, new uniforms, and a brand new cast member! Ann Winters will be joining the crew as Ensign Charly Burke, the USS Orville's new Navigator.

Could I be more excited? Let me check...nope, I don't believe so. 

The first season was funny, fresh, and yet shimmered with the light of classic and Next Generation Star Trek. The characters were likeable, the stories and relationships engaging and clever, the ship designs were awesome, and I was definitely looking forward to the second season. 

Season 2 was almost a different beast. Everything except the humor was turned up to 11. The humor was actually turned down a bit, giving the series a more serious Science Fiction tone. The overarching plots running through the show over the two seasons really came to a head, some stories colliding with each other to create a new status quo. 

An incredible set up for season three!

And now, the future of the future is upon us. 

As you can see, no spoilers here. If you want to know what happened in the first two seasons you'll have to watch this fantastic show for yourselves. I highly recommend it. Besides, you'll need to prep for Season 3! What are you waiting for? 

Now, this is primarily an RPG blog and yes, I have a strong inclination to run an Orville RPG campaign. I should say an inclination to try again. I've tried three times in fact, with the last one being the most effective overall. I can only imagine that after this new season, I will be all the more jazzed to give it another go. 

I can't wait to post all my thoughts and ideas on the subject and I don't even know what they're going to be yet! I just know I was really inspired by the previous seasons and I can only imagine what MacFarlane and his team have instore for us next. Expect to see some posts on converting Modiphius's Star Trek Adventures to The Orville universe sometime this Summer. 

Once again, we need not fear the banana,

Barking Alien

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Rest in Peace, George Perez

Upon leaving the movie theater after having seen Doctor Strange and The Multiverse of Madness (which I shall discuss in a future post). 

To all of George’s fans and friends,

    Constance here, with the update no one wants to read. George passed away yesterday, peacefully at home with his wife of 490 months and family by his side. He was not in pain and knew he was very, very loved.

      We are all very much grieving but, at the same time, we are so incredibly grateful for the joy he brought to our lives. To know George was to love him; and he loved back. Fiercely and with his whole heart. The world is a lot less vibrant today without him in it.

       He loved all of you. He loved hearing your posts and seeing the drawings you sent and the tributes you made. He was deeply proud to have brought so much joy to so many.

        Everyone knows George’s legacy as a creator. His art, characters and stories will be revered for years to come. But, as towering as that legacy is, it pales in comparison to the legacy of the man George was.  George’s true legacy is his kindness. It’s the love he had for bringing others joy - and I hope you all carry that with you always.

     Today is Free Comic Book Day. A day George absolutely loved and a fitting day to remember his contributions to comics and to our lives. I hope you’ll enjoy your day today with him in mind. He would have loved that.

       Please keep his wife Carol in your thoughts and again, I thank you for respecting her privacy. I remain available through the contact on the page.

        George's memorial service will take place at MEGACON Orlando at 6pm on Sunday, May 22nd. It will be open to all. Details to follow. 

       We will miss him always.

I've been unable, until now, to properly convey my thoughts on the passing of my favorite comic book artist of all time, the one and only George Perez.

George Perez was the first comic book artist whose name I actually knew. Prior to his illustrating 'The New Teen Titans' (1980-1984), I absolutely adored comic books but it never occurred to me to know who made them. This all changed when my local comic book store announced, sometime in 1982 I believe, that writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez, the creative team on one of my favorite comics at the time, would be attending a comic book convention in New York City in the fall. I immediately got tickets and went with my friend Joe Cangelosi to meet with the people who made our beloved Titans.

We managed to speak with George and Marv before their panel, for some time actually, asking them questions, sharing our own superhero ideas, and generally getting to know them as people. When we went into the panel, Joe and I sat in the third or fourth row and were recognized by Marv and George and called on several times. Afterwards, I bought this massive poster of the Teen Titans which Perez signed on the back. It was one of my most cherished items when I was younger.

It was because of George Perez that I decided to go to the High School of Art and Design and the School of Visual Arts. I wanted to be a comic book artist. I knew it was a real job as I had met a real person with that job and he was happy.

Fast forward 25 years to my time working for Wizard World Conventions and getting to meet George Perez again. I was introduced to George by one of my bosses and I relayed to him the story of our first meeting. He kindly told me he didn't remember the events I described but he also didn't remember what he'd had for breakfast that morning. "It isn't you", he said with a smile. The next morning I randomly passed him in a hallway; he smiled, pointed at me, and said, "ADAM!" with his eyes wide. I chuckled and replied, "Yes, thank you. And you're George!" He laughed and walked on. We would talk maybe one or two more times that weekend and each time it was warm, friendly, and casual.

Sometime later, perhaps a few months, we (Wizard) were trying to get guests for an upcoming show. We had a neat idea for a series of panels on how comics were made and when it came time to get a writer I suggested Marv Wolfman. "Marv won't do it", I was told. "He doesn't like us." I asked if I could at least try and was given the go ahead as long as we had a few back-up plans.

I called Marv, introduced myself and why I was contacting him, and said, "before you consider the proposal, can I tell you a story about meeting you and George Perez when I was 13?" I proceeded to tell him what I told you above, with a few more details regarding some humorous anecdotes that had occurred during that first encounter in 1982. I also mentioned seeing George a few months prior. Marv asked if I'd told George the story. I of course told him I had and how George had responded. "Heh. That sounds just like George. It's been a while since we've spoken and longer since I've seen him. I miss him." Marv ended up signing on to the event and as George was a guest as well, the two got to chat which was worth everything to me. That was almost 15 years ago.

Today I learned of George's death and the disappearance from this world of yet another of my heroes. Although I was not close with him, I got to know him for a time. I got to speak to him, listen to him, know he listened to me, and make him laugh. What more could you ask for in this life? He will live on in my heart and memories as he will in the hearts and memories of his family, friends, and many, many fans. Tonight I raise a glass to George Perez, who disproves the adage that you shouldn't meet your heroes.

Mine was awesome.

Rest in Peace.

Barking Alien

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

State of Gaming Address - May 2022

April was pretty much a bust. Few posts, no epiphanies made or real insights given and no A-to-Z Challenge at all. I am lost in an RPG funk and I really shouldn't be. 

Sure I get frustrated now and again with the groups and games I'm playing in or running but overall the material has been good. Really good in fact. 

Inspired by the comments on my previous post, I thought it might be a good idea to assess where I am gaming wise by doing one of my 'State of Gaming' addresses. 

Here's what I am doing in the hobby...


Champions: UNITY

Run once a week by me, this campaign is based on 'The Age of Champions' campaign setting created by my good friend William Corpening and mentioned on this blog numerous times. I have run several games using this universe, each following a alternate history of what followed the end of my time as a player in the original campaign (and once following the actual end of the campaign past my own involvement). We have designated this incarnation Champions Earth-Alpha Delta-1A (see my breakdown on the known Earths of The Age of Champions).

There are three players in this campaign (originally four but one is currently taking a break from gaming for a while) and it's been really good. The characters are each quite different and their backgrounds and natures have been informing the types of plots and villains I've been generating. I also like that I get to explore new aspects of this setting that in some cases haven't been fully explored before.

Star Trek: Prosperity

Every Friday I'm not playing Hogwarts I am running a Star Trek Adventures campaign with the same four other people from the Wizarding World game as players. The campaign is set during the late 'Original Series' era (roughly 2268-2272 so far). We started the game using the Last Unicorn Games Star Trek RPG but we converted the campaign to Modiphius' Star Trek Adventures 2D20 System fairly early on. Presently we are on 'Season 6', having been playing this game for a little under 8 years. 

This has been a great campaign with some very challenging scenarios, interesting characters, real emotion, as well as some nifty exploration of Star Trek canon and lore.

Star Wars: Gray Territories

My latest campaign, run roughly twice a month, is a Star Wars D6/West End Games game with three friends whom I've known for almost 35 years. We played an epic Star Wars campaign back in my late college days called Tales from the Rim and now we're back at it like no time has passed. This is presently my pride and joy.

I've already started discussing and recapping it on the blog but for a quick overview - It's Awesome! The setting/universe is one we all love, the characters are quirky and fun, the narrative is simple so far but with a larger background mystery just beginning to unfold. Best of all (OMGrogu! THE BEST!) is that it moves quickly. Each session is about half as long as the sessions of my other games and yet some much happens! Love it. 

Honorable Mention: Traveller: Buried Treasures

For almost a year I was running a classic Traveller (with some MegaTraveller) campaign one a week but it's on hold for time being as one of the players has had a baby. Apparently infant Humans cannot fend for themselves and my friend Will and his wife will be occupied with this endeavor for sometime. Who knew?  


Hogwarts: A Mystery

Run bi-weekly (every other Friday) by my friend Alex and using a rules-lite homebrew system originally inspired by Apocalypse World (but quite different), the campaign focuses on four Player Character students of House Ravenclaw. The game has been going fairly regularly for about five years now and the students are 'Fifth Years'.

This is the only game I am in as a player and I have to say, it's one of the best I've experienced overall in a very long time. I attribute this to Alex, who is not only an excellent GM but someone well-versed in the setting, lore, and capable of making it 'feel right'. I also really like my character, Francis 'Frank' Pellgrove, whom I would list among the greatest PCs I've ever run (and I did!).

This is where I am at TRPG-wise. All of these games are excellent. At the same time, they all have their flaws and imperfections (well...except for the Star Wars game. So far it's perfect.). 

I could go into the detailed workings of each campaign but I don't want right here and now. I may do articles addressing more general issues in the future though. 

Writing this post has done its job, giving me a clearer idea of what I want to talk about going forward. With renewed vigor and new ideas, I aim to get this 45th Anniversary Celebration back on track.

Thank you all for coming by and sticking with Barking Alien. I really do appreciate it.

Thank you.

Barking Alien