Monday, January 15, 2018

Insufficient Funds






In celebration of the birthday of America's greatest civil rights leader, I'd like to present one of my favorite parts of the 'I Have A Dream' speech:

"In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., August 28th, 1963


Peace, Love, and Equality,

AD
Barking Alien








Sunday, January 14, 2018

I Ship It

"We're going to need to repair the fuel tubes on that Nova 3-Z. No, no, the one in Bay 5. She took a heck of a beating back in...Oh Hello! Sorry, I didn't see you there. Happy Western Civilizations of Earth Solar Cycle to you!

Yes it's me, your ol' pal Barkley. Hmm? What am I up to? So glad you asked.





One of the interesting features of the Barking Alien Blog is our Space/Time Interphase Capacity Ket-Yield, or 'S.T.I.C.K.Y.' Hangar Bay, and Orbital Dock facilities. These unusual launching, landing, storage, and maintenance yards allow Adam to store every starship he has ever used in a Role Playing Game campaign.

No it's true!

Why everything from the very first faster-than-light vessel he ever used as a character to the Leviathan Class Heavy Cruiser from his upcoming The Orville game is docked here in S.T.I.C.K.Y. fleet yard facilities. 

Periodically throughout the year, Adam will be featuring one of these beauties in on the blog in one of his irregularly regular features. This new one, entitled STARSHIP SUNDAYS, will give you information on the many galaxy-spanning space vehicles Adam and his players have featured over the last 40+ years.

Well, I'd love to chat with you some more, but these ships don't stay in tip-top working order all by themselves. As it happens I'm covering for the lead Dockmaster Droid who's currently on leave. His wife had twins! Isn't that wonderful! No, I don't understand how it's possible either.

Hope to you see you again soon!

AD
Barking Alien


Additional Notes:

In this series I will showcase the interstellar (or even interplanetary) space vessels that have appeared in RPG games I've run, or played in.


Just to be clear, a lot of these were ships used by the PC party in a campaign I ran, and are therefore not original designs. Some are, but a lot of them are ships from the respective universes the campaigns were set in. For example, the PCs in a Star Trek game might have used a Miranda Class, or a Nebula Class, vessels I certainly didn't come up with.

At the same time, I won't be covering the ship classes overall, but the specific one we used, and what made it unique and special. 

I will also be discussing craft that my own PCs commanded. A lot of my Sci-Fi PCs have had ships, from one-man starfighters, to freighters, to the big capital ships. When I play SF games my desires are pretty simple; I want to be an alien, and I want to own, or serve on a starship. Everything else is just icing on the cake. 










Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Cowboys and Aliens

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the first Barking Alien post of 2018! 

I apologize for taking so long to get started this year. I've been incredibly busy of late. All good I assure you.

I am now technically in my 41st year in the Role Playing Game hobby.

Wow. Can you imagine?


So what am I going to be working on this year? What's my current 'State of Gaming'? What is my next big game project (or projects)?


I know you're all waiting, gripping the edges of your respective seats in anticipation. Well, some of you are. That guy is. You know who I'm talking about. Yeah you. This one's for that guy.

Where are we now?

At the moment, I am playing in two games, and running one. The other game I was running has ended, at least temporarily. 

On Wednesday nights, I am involved in a Kapow! Superhero campaign that has been going strong for about three years now. I've been getting a little frustrated with it lately due to no fault of the GM, or the other players. The group is the thing I enjoy most about the game. It's me. I'm a little bored with the Superhero genre right now. Even I find that a strange statement coming from me, so I can only imagine what you're thinking dear reader. I attribute it to too many Supers games in 2017. 

The second game I'm playing in, which has been hiatus for some time now, is an in-person Hogwarts/Wizard World of Harry Potter game run using a homebrewed variant of Apocalypse World. The game is has traditionally been run on alternating Friday nights, except when the GM is unavailable (such as this past holiday season, and into the new year), or when more than two of the players can't show (as there are only four players in the group).

I like this game a lot, although the tone of the last several sessions shifted too dramatically for my personal tastes. Our PCs are in their third year, but the situations and antagonists felt like they were more appropriate to Book 5 (The Order of the Phoenix). This wouldn't be a big deal except Book 3 (The Prisoner of Azkaban) was my favorite book, and Book 5 my least favorite. We all had fun, but I felt a little shorted, or cheated thematically. Still, I am very much looking forward to this games return in the coming weeks.

On the alternating Fridays I mentioned above, I am running Star Trek: Prosperity, a Star Trek Adventures campaign set in the late, Original Series era. Our campaign begins a before the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain James T. Kirk has completed its 5 year mission, and is now approximately a year, and half in to its own 3 year mission. Our campaign has a number of influences from The Animated Series, as well as various Star Trek comic books.

I was running a Superhero game with a homebrew system that was based on the Japanese Anime/Manga series, My Hero Academia entitled My Hero Academia: American Ultra. I completed the campaign's 'first season', which went well, but I began to feel that aforementioned weariness with Supers that I mentioned. I felt it necessary to end the game while I was just jazzed about it. It could certainly be optioned for a second season at some later date. . 

Kapow! continues, as does Hogwarts, and Star Trek: Prosperity, but a new year means new games, and I have several concepts I want to explore. The question therefore is...

Where are we going?

The two ideas that are foremost in my mind right now are:

The Orville

A traditional Science Fiction/Space Exploration campaign set in the universe of the Seth Macfarlane's TV series of the same name.

In addition to really liking the show, I love that idea that the players will have the kind of familiarity they would have with a Star Trek game, but without having to worry about all the continuity, and elements they don't know. There have only been 12 episodes. We've all seen the same 12. Not hard to keep things straight. 

I also like that although the show is not really the comedy that everyone expected, there are more relaxed and light hearted moments than you might be on other Sci-Fi shows. This milieu is one of serious Science Fiction, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. 

As noted in some earlier posts on the subject, I am adapting Star Trek Adventures for this. Expect to see a lot of The Orville Adventures in posts throughout the year, but especially within the next couple of weeks.

Travellin' West

A working title, with another possibility being Western, or Westward, Traveller. Essentially, a Wild West RPG campaign using a variant of classic Traveller. 

Now, when I say a variant, I am talking about the kitbashed, house-ruled version of classic Traveller I've been running for many years now. Basically it's classic with some updated rules from MegaTraveller, and an optional 'Death During Character Creation' system that can result in some very neat background material, plot hooks, and even special abilities, and items on occasion. 

I've been toying with the idea of returning to the rather unusual approach to running a Western I took when I was very young, and still a relative newbie with RPGs. You can find references to both the original game, and my desire to revisit it here, and here

While considering and turning down a number of options for a new campaign for this year, the Western idea kind of crept up on me out of nowhere, but stuck in my head even as others came, and went. While trying to find a system, it occurred to me how relatively simple, and effective it would be to adapt Traveller. It has an ideal balance between simplicity, and mechanical crunch, features a combat system where a pistol can kill an unarmored man, and PCs don't get more hit points as they improve in other way. A bandit's bullet can take you down in session fifty, as easily as it can in session 1.

There are other elements I think also translate over well, including the Character Creation, with Career rolls, and the building of the PCs history as they're being generated. 

I am pretty excited about this endeavor. I will keep you all posted regarding my progress. I hope to get it down, and working, and not drop the project as I did Star Wars Traveller.*


Alrighty now...we've got the ball rolling!

Let's see where it bounces...


AD
Barking Alien


*Star Wars Traveller is on the back burner, and has been for some time. With my feeling less than impressed with the latest film, and far too many other ideas going through my head, Star Wars Traveller is not my concern at this time. I may get back to it at some later date, but right now that later date seems to be much, much later. 









Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Days of Luke Skywalker

I've held off writing this post long enough.

The year 2017 has come to an end, and as such, I feel it is my duty as a Star Wars fan with a blog (i.e. no one of any real consequence) to speak my peace on the most polarizing, and quite honestly awkward, of the franchise's films to date...The Last Jedi.





MAY THE SPOILERS BE WITH YOU


I really don't know what to say that won't send me on some kind of rant. That's not what I want. It's not a fan ranting situation that I want to convey here. 

I didn't hate it, let's be clear. At the same time, I don't think it's a good movie.

Additionally, it isn't a great Star Wars movie. 

Having seen it twice, I feel like a few of the criteria that make Star Wars what it is were not met. This is separate from my particular feelings on what 'would have been cool', or how I think some of the characters should have acted. Those are my personal opinions, and don't effect whether, or not this was a well done film, or a solid entry into the Star Wars franchise.

The things I am addressing here are things of a cinematic nature, and things that make a good Star Wars, well, good. 

OK...

A Good Star Wars Movie is Fast Paced, And the Fast Pace Has Meaning

Star Wars isn't Science Fiction. Its not about what ifs. It has nothing to do with the ethical, social, or political applications of science and technology. It's, at best, Space Opera, but really more of a Space Fantasy. At it's heart, it is an Action/Adventure film.

Action/Adventure can definitely have moments of suspense, and tension, and they certainly benefit from scenes with character development and interaction. These must be placed carefully however, less they take energy and momentum away from the action that drives the entirety of the film. 

Here, the film largely revolves around the slowest, most tedious chase scene in cinematic history. The good guys move like tiny herd of wounded deer, followed by the world's laziest wolves. It was pathetic, sad, and drained the sense of urgency right out of the sequence, and because of its prominence, many of the sequences that followed. 

While there were some fast paced scenes in the film, many were self contained, and did not effect the overall narrative (more on that below). A starship battle right before the slow crawl through space simply highlighted how dreary the subsequent space slog scenes were. The awesome battle in the Supreme Leader's throne room against his personal guard was great, but had no bearing on the larger chase, the decisions of the participants, or anything. Police speeders chasing heroes on escaped animals did nothing to help the Resistance escape (though it may help them indirectly in the future).

Fast Paced Scenes are needed to generate and maintain excitement, and momentum. Those same scenes should have a direct impact on the overall plot.


Heroes in a Good Star Wars Movie Do Heroic Things - Successfully

Character need hardships to overcome, opponents to defeat, and be defeated by, and obstacles of all sorts to challenge them at nearly every turn. These are not merely things that bar their way on a path. By besting these challenges, we get to see what a character is made of. We learn how they act and think. Do they use their heads? Do they give up until reminded of a loved one, or friend in need? Do they throw caution to the wind, and use their physical abilities to barrel through because, hell, no one lives forever right?

In the end though, they succeed. They win, or at the very least they best their challenge and prove that they have what it takes to see the situation through and maybe, just maybe, save the day in the end.

No one accomplishes anything in this film. No one makes a difference, or proves they're special. Even when it seems like perhaps they do, they don't, because something detracts from their success. 

Luke does not truly train Rey. Rey does not learn very much. Rey does learn who her parents are but it doesn't matter. Rey doesn't turn Kylo Ren to the side of good. Kylo Ren doesn't turn Rey to the Dark Side. Neither does Snoke. Luke sees Leia before he dies, but not really. He gives her Han's dice from the Falcon, but not really. Finn, smitten with Rey and wanting to help her, never does.

Finn teams with Rose to deactivate the poorly thought out First Order device that can track the Resistance through Hyperspace. They fail. They look to contact the great Codebreaker. They don't. They instead get swindled by Benicio Del Toro (whose character is named Stuttering Benicio Del Toro as far as I can tell - he actually accomplishes something).

Poe proves himself a bad leader (somehow), then a mutineer, then an idiot. Admiral Holdo (who, am I to understand commands her vessel and fleet in a fashionable evening dress? No uniform? Because...?), is a great leader...or a coward. I couldn't tell. I also couldn't tell what the movie wanted me to think of her. Was her move a brilliant one? No. The defenseless transports were largely shot down going to the only planet in the area they could be going to. Many moviegoers complained that she should have told her team what her plan was so there wouldn't have been a mutiny. I disagree. The mutiny was Poe's fault for being an impatient jerk. She could have said, "Don't worry, I have a plan", but wasn't obligated to do so. No, my problem was that it was a terrible, terrible plan that ended up reducing the entire Resistance to no more people than could fit on the Millennium Falcon.

"Wait, Adam!" you say, "But Kylo killed Snoke, Finn defeated Phasma, and Rose saved Finn!"

OK, let's look at those instances...

Kylo did indeed kill Snoke, who seemed rather powerful, so yes I will happily admit he accomplished something. Unfortunately, it ended a character that had yet to be developed, which is a problem this new trilogy has across the board. There are too many characters that come from nowhere, and go nowhere. For example...

Finn defeating Phasma was incredibly anti-climactic. Because she is a very 'Boba Fett'-like character (cool looking but doing little to show that she is bad ass), his defeat of her isn't very satisfying. They have but one battle, and in it she is done in as much by the exploding ship she's on as by Finn's combat abilities.

Finally, Rose saves Finn before he flies directly into the Beam Drill thing...and potentially destroys it and saves the day. Rose may have stopped Finn from being killed, but she also stops him from being a hero. His character serves so weak a purpose in the second film, and not much of one in the first film. Going from renegade Stormtrooper, to Guy who takes down the First Order's weapon and enables the Resistance to escape would've been a great character arc. Don't misunderstand, I like Finn. Heck, he's my favorite character in the new trilogy! The problem is that I am starting to realize he's my favorite not because of anything he's done in any of the movies, but because I like the actor, John Boyega. Finn the character is, like most of the characters in The Last Jedi, largely ineffectual. 


Characters Develop A  Lot More When They Interact, Less When They Are Alone

In the first film, Poe Dameron never meets Rey. Rey and Poe don't have a scene together in The Force Awakens. In this film, they have one tiny scene together at the very end. Rey never meets Rose. Rose never meets Leia, Luke, Chewie, or Han. Finn, Rose, and Poe have a handful of very short scenes together. Finn and Rose have more scenes together than pretty much any two other main characters (maybe even Luke and Rey!), and yet very little of it is spent getting to know each other. A little maybe. Finn knows about Rose, but what does she know about him? Then at the end of the film, she loves him. What?!? When did they happen? Screw that, when did it start, build, develop, and...what the hell happened to that entire subplot?

These people are all fighting for a united idea. That I get, I like, and it makes sense. They are not, and could not, be fighting for each other, or battling the enemy on a personal level with a scant few exceptions. Rose lost her sister. Finn lost (in a fashion) Rey. That doesn't feel like enough. I saw no sign that these characters were truly connected to each other. 

Poe's goofy taunt of Hux for example is funny, but doesn't really make sense. It doesn't motivate Hux to hate Poe personally, nor does Poe view Hux as his nemesis. Why didn't we see Poe in his X-Wing go up against Kylo Ren in his Tie Silencer? What a waste of both characters, and both vessels. 

***

In conclusion, I felt the movie was a lot like...soup. Not good, homemade soup, but mediocre restaurant soup. There were a few tasty chunks of meat, a couple nice vegetables, but it was all held together by a thin broth. It was served so hot you had to eat it slowly, but the next thing you knew it had turned cold, and wasn't even appetizing. 

I hope the next film is better. I hope the characters start to work together, and start to matter to the story. I hope we get to see a war in the stars in the final Star Wars movie of this trilogy. 

I hope Luke didn't die in vain.

AD
Barking Alien




.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Holiday Specials

Season's Greetings to everyone out there in blogland!

It's just me, your ol' pal Adam, here to wish you all a very Happy New Year, a Merry Christmas, and/or a Happy Holiday of your choice. You know me, I like them all.

December has been interesting so far.

I've run some really good Star Trek games, played at lot of Supers games, didn't get to see my new girlfriend nearly enough (she's out of town visiting family), and, well, got inspired and incensed in equal measure by various films, and television features. 

For now, let's focus on the positives...
 
By the way, SPOILER ALERT - SPOILERS Everywhere! - SPOILERS Up the Wazoo!


Bright





I am not, generally speaking, a fantasy fan. At the same time, I do love folklore as I've mentioned before, and can appreciate even traditional fantasy if done very well. Similarly, although am I not a crime drama fan per se, growing up the son of a cop, and the grandson of a movie buff, the genre does hold my interest on occasion. Bright, the Netflix original film staring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, and Lucy Fry, was therefore quite a surprise, as I really enjoyed it.

Bright does an excellent job of world building a 'plausible' (perhaps workable is more accurate), alternate, modern day filled with elves, orcs, and magic wands while at the same time never overtly doing so. That is to say, it doesn't lay out how this world got this way, who are the big players are, or how things work on any in depth level. Instead, it does something I have been advocating for years in other genre features from television to movies to RPGs; Bright assumes its own world makes sense, and figures you will too. 

The result is a lack of wasted time, unnecessary exposition, uninteresting characters, and eye-rolling padding that the film doesn't need. It's awesome, and refreshing. 

Effects are good, very good in fact, and largely downplayed, which I also enjoyed. As the years go on, I am less and less impressed by Fantasy projects with vulgar magic. If you shoot bolts of arcane energy out of your hands, you better be a superhero. It's cool when Doctor Strange does it, but for everyone else it's pretty tacky. The look of it here, while occasionally flashy, definitely worked and was shown as rare and special. I liked that.

Overall, this is a very cool film, and a great setting for a game. It's very 'Shadownrun Now' if you catch my drift. While not my cup of tea (I'm a coffee drinker you see), I'd be down for playing it a few times if someone else was running. 


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Season 2






I must confess that I liked the original Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams, but didn't love them. That's difficult to admit, considering how much I adore The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and what a huge influence it is on my own works. 

In some ways, many actually, the recent BBC series created by Max Landis, and starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, and many more very talented people, is quite different from its literary origins. Those differences help, at least for me, as I found both Season One and Two brilliant! The blend of quirky characters, off beat stories, and the more than slightly surreal nature of the program really won me over.

While I enjoyed Season One more than Two, the second season was still wonderful, and it had a lot of great new characters, and interesting twists. 

I was very sad to learn that the BBC has decided not to renew the show for a third season. Aside from not getting more of a product that I enjoyed, the second season began to delve into a much richer, and deeper meta-plot that I can't believe they would just leave hanging there. Perhaps Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu will pick it up.

Time will tell. 

Is it gameable? Well, I'm not sure. Technically I think nearly everything is gameable to some degree, and I am pretty sure I could make a Dirk Gently-like RPG campaign work. The real question is would I be able to find people into it? Maybe...


Happy!






Unlike the other two entries on this post, Happy! - a Dark Comedy/Crime Drama airing on the Syfy channel (No really! The Syfy Channel!), and based on the Grant Morrison, Darrick Robertson comic book series - is still going on. It hasn't ended yet, with Episode 4 having aired on December 27th, 2017. What does this mean? Well, only that I can't tell you my thoughts on the series as a whole, only on what I've seen so far.

I like it. A lot! I am once again surprised by my own opinions, as this sort of story is not to my usual taste. It succeeds in part because of the excellent performances by Christopher Meloni as lead character Nick Sax, and Patton Oswald as Happy!, the imaginary friend of a young girl who has been kidnapped, and seeks out ex-detective turned hitman Sax to find her. 

The other ingredient that makes this particular concoction hit the spot is the rather out there premise, and the creepy/clever way it is used in the narrative. Trust me, I do notice a theme going here. Both Happy! and Dirk Gently, appeal to my love of the largely untapped idea of a black humor Twilight Zone situation, and as such they are definitely inspiring ideas on how to incorporate that feel into my upcoming campaigns.

Which are? You'll have to wait, and see. That's a discussion for a future post.

There is a lot of other material I could discuss here, since as I noted I've watched a lot of stuff this holiday season. For instance, I can not recommend Guillermo del Toro's, 'The Shape of Water' enough. I really enjoyed that as well. It was a modernization of two older films in a way I both didn't expect, and always wanted to see. 

I feel like I'm forgetting something. Was there another big movie that came out? Recently I want to say. What was the last movie I saw? The Last J...


To Be Continued

AD
Barking Alien