Friday, November 24, 2017

Ask Barking Alien - Nigh Invulnerable

My friend Mark Orr asks, "What do you consider the weakness[es] of Supers games?"

What a question! Wow, huh? 

"What's the meaning of life?" too easy for for? Geez.

OK, I had to clarify the question with Mark to make sure I was interpreting it correctly. As it turns out, my understanding of the question was spot on. What is really being asked here is, "What are the difficulties in running a Superhero RPG game", or "What makes it harder to run a Superhero game than say, a D&D game"?

Well...first off, I don't normally find Supers games hard to run, and I don't feel like the genre itself has a ton of weak points that prevent it from being enjoyable in RPG form. That said, there are a few obstacles to Supers games that can be tricky to get through.

Let's look at a two of the biggest...


If You're Not On the Same Page, It's Not Going To Work

More than any other single genre I can think of, the genre of comic book Superheroes has splintered to the point where it seems harder than it should be to find a group where all the members have the same view of Superheroes.

This is do to the various 'Ages' of comics, the deconstruction of Superheroes and Superhero comic book tropes in the late 80s and early 90s, and the exposure people have had to these characters. Some folks have been reading comics since they were kids, others only know them from modern movies, and tv shows, and still others have only a passing knowledge of what Superheroes are.

I've played in a few games now with players who are all gung-ho to play Supers, but having only read manga, or Vertigo comics. They end up playing teen age kids with no costumes and try to kill their enemies.

That's fine if you are all in synch to play that kind of game. If you're not, it can be problematic.

For a Superhero campaign to work the participants must share the same collective consciousness when it comes to what Superheroes are, why they do what they do, and how it all works. You don't just need 'buy-in', you need roughly the same buy-in. 

On a related note:

While discussing this very question, a friend remarked that in his view Superman's origin, and his weakness of Kryptonite, didn't make sense. If he were creating a Superhero universe of his own, he would 'fix' origins like Superman's. In what way? Well first, according to my friend, "Planet's do not just explode, so..."

It was at that point I tuned out.

You see, in my view, if Superman doesn't work as a character, then no Superhero character works. Kal-El being rocketed from his exploding homeworld makes no more or less sense than a kid being bitten by a radioactive spider, a pilot being given an alien ring of power, a quartet being bombarded by cosmic radiation...none of it results in super powered heroes. Most of it would result in dead people if the events could occur at all. None it makes sense. It's all thoroughly ridiculous.  

Unless...

Unless you accept that you are talking about a Superhero universe, and the laws of such a universe make these things possible.


Character Power Levels Can Seem Disproportionate

One of the biggest issues when playing a Superhero RPG is handling the massive differences in scale that the genre accommodates, often seemingly without effort. Applied to the Player Characters, this means someone could end up playing Robin, and someone could end up as the Hulk. In comics this is nothing unusual, and teams often feature characters with abilities at different ends of the power scale. In the Avengers films for example Black Widow and Hawkeye are considered key team members as much as Iron Man and Thor are, but there is no way Hawkeye is ever going to contribute as much to a battle to save the world as Iron Man is. Right?

For many, this dynamic is not easy to replicate, or deal with in an RPG. If one player's starting PC can lift and throw a tank, fly at the speed of sound, and shoot energy beams from her eyes, how can the next player's PC be a martial art with Human strength, and a katana. Where's the game balance? How do you make it fair?

Some systems use very abstract mechanics to make this work, sacrificing detail, and genre tropes to maintain game balance. Others deal with it by giving the players points to spend, and saying the a 250 point Superman simply spends his points differently than a 250 point Batman. Clark has flight, invulnerability, and phenomenal strength, while Bruce has a car, a plane, a base, skills up the wing-wang, and wealth.

I'm a much bigger fan of the latter. If I want to play a skilled character with gadgets, if that's what I really want to play, then I'm not going to complain that I can't do what the flying brick can do. I could have chosen that kind of character. I didn't. No sour grapes from me.


I hope that answered the question and didn't veer to far off course.

Looking to move on to December to be honest. A lot of other ideas have been bubbling up.

Up, up, and away...


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Monday, November 20, 2017

Active Silence

As you can tell by this month's post count, I haven't been posting a lot at all lately. 

Why? Well...it's as I feared. With no single theme, challenge, or anything else, I don't have a lot of motivation to write anything down, and share it. I've gotten a few questions from viewers, mostly friends, but not a lot. No interest from you guys translates to no interest from me I'm afraid. 

I'm certainly gaming a lot, reading a number of games, and watching a lot (A LOT!) of cool TV shows that I find inspire game ideas, but I am also working extra hard lately, and dating someone, and the blog just isn't calling to me. 

I will get to the questions I've been asked, and maybe a little more here, and there, but November is going to be pretty quite at the ol' Barking Alien site it seems. 

Maybe it will pick up next month.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Ask Barking Alien - Lost in Space

Foomf asks, "Have you ever created models, or art of Traveller spacecraft?"

The answer to this is yes. Unfortunately, I have no proof.

I'll explain...

Most of the spacecraft art, whether two, or three dimensional, that I've made for Traveller over the years was made long ago. It's been at least 10-15 years since I've made anything of a model-kit, or original illustration nature. 

Never particularly good at drawing Science Fiction vehicles (especially starships), and yet loving them to pieces, I would most often use already existing art found in books, and magazines. Eventually I met other gaming friends better at illustrating spacecraft, and left the depictions to them. 

I am pretty good at imagining, and designing ships, just not getting them on paper.

As my modeling skills improved, and I started to customize Japanese Robot models more, and more, I tried my hand at customizing Star Trek, and Star Wars models. I sold a battle damaged Klingon K'Tinga that I'd made, which originally hung down from the ceiling in the old Forbidden Planet comic book store here in New York. I later sold a customized A-Wing fighter diorama that included miniatures originally made for Star Wars D6.

By the time I started college I had begun creating kit-bashed speeder vehicles, and shuttles for Traveller, but this was around 1989-1990. We did not have cameras in our pockets like we do now, and so I never took pictures of any of my work. I also never kept any of it, since I rarely used miniatures in my own games. Instead, as with the K'Tinga, and the A-Wing, I made it a habit of selling my pieces to supplement my income.

So, the answer to the question is yes, I have made models of original ship designs, but no such works remain in my possession, and no photos exist of them that I am aware of.

You'll just have to take my word for it.


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A Podcast Service Announcement

The 2017 Discover Pods Awards are upon us, and I would like to take this opportunity to once again recommend 'The Pod of Many Casts' by my good friends Leo Jenicek and Alex Berkowitz (among others).

The podcast is eligible for entry in nearly every category, as all the categories are write-ins. 

Give the show a listen if you're into Dungeons & Dragons with a comedic flair. I like it a lot, and I'm sure you will too. 

Please visit the Discover Pods Awards, and vote for this, or your own personal favorite. If anyone knows of any particularly good Sci-Fi RPG podcasts, please let me know about them in the comments below.

Good luck gang!

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Ask Barking Alien - Flying High

I am having a pretty good week so far, and as such I thought I'd post while in a positive, posting mood. 

I've only received a single question after my request for inquiries from the Barking Alien viewership, and while that's a bummer, I figure once more people read about it I'll get more questions. Right? Hello? Bueller?

OK, on to the question...

Tom Reed asks, "What is your favorite type of superhero to play?"

Great question! Why? Because even though I haven't played even half as much as I've GMed, the one RPG genre I think I've partaken in the most is Superheroes.

I've played a fair number of Superhero Player Characters, and although I've tried a wide variety, there are definitely certain types that I gravitate towards, and favorites that I have.

First, I tend to create characters that have elements of my favorite well-known, published Superheroes. These include, but are not limited to:

Green Lantern, Iron Man, Mon-El (Legion of Superheroes), the Silver Surfer, The Vision, and Wildfire (Legion of Superheroes).

What you'll notice here is we have a lot of spacefaring heroes, a good number of aliens, and characters who use high-tech armor, or are assisted by technology.

I like heroic, Silver Age heroes who can fly through space, and who are a little unfamiliar with the world setting they are in. I like to play the stranger in a strange land, an alien, or android trying to understand Humanity, and their place among it. 

I also like playing powerful heroes, though less for the raw power, and more for the flexible variety of options they have.

My three favorite heroes of my own creation are:






Equinox, Starguard, and Excelsior



Equinox 

An android whose chest cavity houses an ancient, pre-Mayan artifact that summons spirits four elemental into the androids body. The elementals then form a gestalt being with a variety of supernormal abilities.

Equinox can fly (thanks to a combination of his air, and fire powers), change the nature of his form to that of any of the four elements (air, earth, fire, and water), release blasts of any of these elements, sense changes to those elements in the world around him, and other related feats depending on the game system in which he was generated. Additional abilities in the past have included controlling, and shaping the elements, 'force fields' of the elements, and absorbing them.

Personality wise, Equinox was originally patterned heavily on the Silver Surfer - an intelligent, powerful being who exhibited a child-like sense of wonder, and fascination regarding the modern world. Not Human himself, he found Humanity strange, and wonderful, though dangerous to themselves, and their world. His goal in protecting them was to have more time to understand them, and perhaps help them to better understand each other, and the Earth itself.

Over time the character changed, and expanded. Each of the different elements, when in charge of the gestalt, had a different look and personality. Air is very much as described. His is curious, whimsical, and asks a lot of questions. Earth patient, a slow, though deep thinker, and a bit more callous towards Humans. Fire is bold, aggressive, more direct, and has the least amount of patience. Water is female, flowing, forever coming up with new ideas, and approaches, though likely to change her mind, or be distracted by new people, places, and occurrences. 






I created this character for a friend who wanted to play with an idea from an old folktale he knew. His favorite character was the Silver Surfer, who is a fave of mine as well, so I tried to merge the former Herald of Galactus with my friend's South American myth.

Equinox was first created in Villains & Vigilantes 2nd Edition, and played by my friend Sergio. He has appeared in Champions (as an NPC when I GMed), and Kapow! (finally played by me) as well.


Excelsior

One of my oldest characters, and my absolute favorite (though Starguard is a close second).

Excelsior is a former astronaut, and engineer from about 25 years in the future who was sent back to the present when the experimental FTL drive on the starship he designed exploded. In addition to being hurled back in time, Excelsior was converted into negative matter, or anti-matter, the source of the starship's power. 

To prevent him from exploding by just being in existence, those that found the time-lost man put him inside a highly advanced containment suit that uses magnetic fields to keep him together. This provides him with armor, but it's an armor without which he would detonate and easily vaporize a three mile radius. In addition, he has a limited perception of the world around him, as he 'sees' and 'hears' through magnetic sensors. He has no sense of touch, smell, or taste in his current state. 

For reasons unknown, Excelsior's body is surrounded by a constantly regenerating field of anti-energy. The suit has functions that allow him to channel that energy into bolts, create blasts from his feet for flight, generate a fine, 'anti-energy' mist that serves as a force field, and systems that give him superhuman strength, and endurance. 

In different incarnations his anti-matter powers have been either very powerful energy attacks and defenses, or what they were really meant to be, which is a power with disintegrating effects. For example, in Champions he could not only disintegrate matter, but incoming attacks disintegrated upon hitting his force field. 

Excelsior probably has the most complex personality of any character I have. He is very multi-layered, and I'm not sure I can explain it all in this post. Basically, he is a peaceful, scientist who now has the power to destroy, and only destroy. He can't really pull his punch, and his powers disintegrate. He is also a pretty non-violent guy, though he does know how to fight, he'd rather not have to. It takes him a while to come to terms with his abilities, and he gets pretty creative figuring out how not to kill people with his anti-matter.

He is also a man of 35 years of age hurtled 25 years back in time. He exists here as a 10 year old boy! Excelsior is told repeatedly not to interact with his younger self, but various situations and villain complicate that dynamic. This causes him to take very non-traditional actions to prevent events he knows will happen in the future. For example, he at one point speaks at his younger self's school, only to tell him that perhaps he should pursue art, or sports and not his dream of being an astronaut [an attempt to prevent the events that create his Excelsior identity]. 

Lastly, he has to deal with the loss of some of his senses, and in ways his Humanity. He can't touch another Human being, he can't eat, smell flowers, or enjoy any of the many simple pleasures of being a normal person. Music doesn't sound the same. Movies, and television have no depth, so he can't see them at all. 





A possible Excelsior redesign by my friend Aris



Excelsior was heavily inspired by Iron Man, and Wildfire from the Legion of Superheroes.

Excelsior was first created before I ever played an RPG. The first game he appeared in was V & V 2nd Edition. He was so close to the random rolls I made that I made him up in for the campaign I was in. He was later built in Champions 4th Edition, Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition, and several other games over the years.

I really love this character, though he is no longer my favorite. That honor goes to...


Starguard

Probably the character most familiar to my viewership, Starguard is the principal character I played in my friend William's legendary Champions campaign, The Age of Champions. I, and Starguard, were only involved in the game between 1986, and 1989, roughly. I was involved for three and a half years, but I don't exactly remember where the 'half year' fell. It is likely it bled into 1990. 

Starguard has been discussed on this blog a number of times. His origins have been told, and some of his exploits, both renowned, and infamous, recounted.  

Starguard is everything I love in a superhero character.






He has pathos, mythos, and the ability to fly through space and throw comets. He is a larger-than-life individual, doing what is right for the right reasons. Starguard stands up for the little guy, he despises cheaters, and thieves, and punches tyrants in the face. He has epic adventures, travels through time, and does all the most amazing of amazing things only superheroes get to do. 

His personality is also a ton of fun to play, as it isn't typical of the type of characters I create. Starguard's persona is patterned after Marvel's Thor, and Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner. He boasts a lot less than they do, but he is prone to being just as arrogant, stubborn, and aggressive as they are. This is tempered by a 'Knights-of-Camelot'-like sense of justice, and honor that always keeps his ego in check. He will get angry, swear vengeance, call the villain a 'knave', or the like, but he never forgets he is there to protect the people under his charge. 

First designed, and constructed as a PC for Champions 3rd Edition, he has been rebuilt in 4th. Mutants & Masterminds, Villains & Vigilantes, and other Supers games. 


So there you have it. My favorite Superhero PCs to play in Supers games are high-powered, aliens, androids, or time-lost individuals, trying to make trying to make sense of the world and people they've sworn to protect.

Flying High, and on to the next question!

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