Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reeling In The Year: 2014

Having just finished listening to the Play on Target Podcast episode, '2014 in Review', I starting thinking about my own experiences in gaming this past year.

Now I'm sitting here, listening to Steely Dan, preparing to share my thoughts with all of you.

Life is funny that way.




Deacon Blues

This has been a rough year for me personally, and financially. Gaming wise, I've had a number of campaign attempts begin with fantastic false starts, but die quickly, running into snags, or simply having no staying power.

Although my primary gaming group and I have been together a little over two years now, we still experience growing pains, differences of vision and opinion, and though I am loathe to admit it, we're only Human.

Remind me to get that fixed.

Pretzel Logic

Still and all, it's been a pretty damn good year for gaming. For all the attempts that missed the mark, one or two have bullseyed the target in a big way.

My main group continues to enjoy the living daylights out of our Traveller campaign, Operation: PALADIN. It boggles the mind that this thing has outlived the other campaigns we've tried to get going. It experienced, at one time, or another, all the problems that laid low lesser games, saw one player move, another was kicked out of the group (he's back now, but not yet in the Traveller campaign), and has been delayed numerous times due to difficulties with scheduling during the November to January Holiday season.

Yet still it endures. Heck, it not only endures, it excels. It's awesome. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Now we're making another attempt at a Champions/Superhero campaign, one of the game types that has eluded us up until now, which stinks since Superheroes is my favorite thing to run after Star Trek. Will it work? It hasn't in the past, but the first session went great, and my Magic 8 Ball says all signs point to yes. I'm hopeful.

Rikki Don't Lose That Number

By nothing short of random chance, I bumped into a fellow in the street that I had gamed with at the last RECESS Game Day event. That was...a year ago? Two? We exchanged numbers, and the next thing you know we're gaming together fairly regularly. It turns out we live about 10-15 blocks away from each other, which in Manhattan is a leisurely stroll.

The guy is really cool, his friends (now my friends too) a great group to game with, and I'm getting the chance to play in Superhero games as opposed to running them, while getting to run Star Trek. You can't make this stuff up. Awesome sauce, I'm telling ya.

My Old School

My weekend job at the tutoring center affords me the opportunity to use RPGs as a learning tool to teach kids, while simultaneously having fun at the same time. In addition, everything old is new to them, so I've been able to use games I feel nostalgic about, and see completely new approaches to them through my interaction with this younger generation of 'players'.

So incredible, so rewarding, and so enjoyable.

***

Now, on to my thoughts inspired by listening to Play on Target...

***

First, and foremost, and at the same time least, my thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition.

It's a well known fact that I really don't like generic, medieval High Fantasy. I don't like it. I find it so boring, so...so trite. More so than any other genre, D&D style Fantasy practically reeks of same-old-same-oldness, and been-there-done-thatness.

I've now run D&D 5E twice, and with each attempt, I like it less.

Play on Target points out, and rightly so, that what elements 5E has that are exciting people, and are new for D&D, are things that are practically old hat to the larger gaming community. If even the snazzy new doo-dads are stuff I've seen many times before, what does the game have to excite me?

Oh wait, it has all the best elements of the old editions. Really? The very best of mediocre, eh? Sorry, but if I wanted to play that, which I don't, I already have it. Many have said it reminds them of AD&D, both 1st and 2nd. Unfortunately, I grew tired of AD&D right around the time it's 2nd edition came out. I hardly ever played 2nd.

Fifth does nothing for me. Nothing. It's a really good game. A great version of D&D.

I don't like D&D and 5E does nothing to change that.


***

I got to run Golden Sky Stories (Yuuyake Koyake) for the kids at the center, and it was both great, and something I think I'd really liked to explore further. I don't think we did as much as we could with it. I see greater potential for using this game to teach problem solving, and how to handle different [interpersonal] relationships, but I haven't had time to really devout time to this project.


***

I've gotten to play in a pretty darn fun Superhero RPG of Kapow! over Google Hangouts this year. Originally, the campaign was run by the games creator, but due to a recent job change (Congrats Josh!) the reins were taken over by another player, and he has done a bang up job.

We haven't played much over the Holiday season, but I hope we get back to it soon.

I only got to GM over Google Hangouts once, or twice, the whole year. I...liked it? I don't know. I enjoyed it, but in comparison to playing face-to-face it doesn't hold a candle.


***

I didn't go to any conventions at all this year. As said in the podcast, "Sad Panda".

***

My purchases have been minimal this year. Largely, this is because I have little to no disposable income. Another reason is that there is so very little I am interested in on the market right now.

I honestly can't remember the last game I bought. The last items I recall include Base Raiders...something for Mutants & Masterminds maybe? Really can not say for sure.

***

There is a moment in the podcast where the participants discuss the fact that it's very easy, and therefore enjoyable, for them to play in genres, and games, with which they are familiar. This means, at least to my ear, that if they have played, or have been playing, let's say a Fantasy game for example, they prefer to keep playing that game or genre, because preparation for it is simple to non-existent. They are so in tune with their chosen game, that they hardly have to prep to make a session, an adventure, or even a campaign work.

That whole thing bothered me.

(Gonna get ranty...)

It was a discussion all about what they'd learned. I'm trying not to judge, or be snarky, but honestly, I'm gonna fail. You've been warned.

It sounds to me like they've learned to be lazy.

Now I don't really mean that. I don't mean to say that they've become lazy GMs, who are just phoning it in. Not these guys. These guys are awesome, creative dudes. That's why I not only listen to them, but they produce my absolute favorite podcast.

Rather, very generally speaking, I am bothered by the idea of becoming too comfortable with a particular system, or type of game.

It also seems to me that it's a fairly common phenomena. So many people play D&D because they have played D&D before., or their family and friends have. Because D&D is accessible without much effort. D&D is easy. Playing it more, and more, it becomes easier, and easier.

Hey, I like easy as much as the next guy. I also think if I did everything the easy way, I would get really bored, and I'd never learn anything new.

I like doing prep. I might gripe about it, but more than likely I gripe over not having enough time to prep. I love prepping for a game!

I like researching Inuit mythology for a folkloric fantasy game set in pre-European contact Greenland. I could run Star Trek, Star Wars, or Traveller again, but I'd LOVE to run Space:1999, or original version Battlestar Galactica. I loved those shows, but I haven't watched them in years. I'd need to do quite a bit of reading, and renting on Netflix, to run a game set in those universes, but man the end result would rock. Marvel Heroic? I know Marvel very well (although not as well as DC), yet learning Marvel Heroic was a very new, very different experience when it came up.

Don't be lazy. Work for your fun. Put some blood, sweat, and tears into it man!

Ahem.

***

What have I learned this past year? Hmmm.

A lot.

The main thing I'd have to say is that I desperately need to get my edge back. I need the players to be a little more concerned for their PC's well being. I need to generate more physical conflicts in my otherwise cerebral games, just to keep the players on their toes. I did it in the past, became a bit too nice, and now I'm working toward re-establishing my skill at kicking ass.

Happy New Year Everyone!

All the best in 2015 to you and yours from Adam, Delilah, and of course Barkley.

AD
Barking Alien






Tuesday, December 30, 2014

ALL ACCESS!: Titans Together!

For me, it's all about the team.
 
 

The Legion of Superheroes
By amazing artist (and my personal friend)
Chris Batista


Growing up reading comics, I was primarily into team books.

I read very few solo titles regularly, and those I did follow were always ones which featured a character who played a significant role on a team. As a matter of fact, while I checked out solo books my friends read, I myself only bought Green Lantern from DC, and Iron Man from Marvel.

Spiderman, a favorite character of many, many of my friends, and recently identified as the highest grossing merchandised character, was never a big deal to me. It's not that I didn't like him. After all, he has a neat costume, and cool, pretty unique powers. He was simply never a character I really collected.

His adventures, and his enemies, were too mundane for me. I was into the big, epic, science fiction superheroes. The thing that turned me off of him the most though, was that he wasn't on a team.

My favorite comics (as I've noted before on the blog) were the All-Star Squadron, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Infinity Inc., the Justice Society of America, the Legion of Superheroes, and of course, the Teen Titans, and the X-Men.



Let's not forget Alpha Flight!
Illustration By John Byrne
 
 
When creating a Superhero campaign, it's all about the team, because that's who the Player Characters are. Sure, you're going to get that one jerk who wants to be a 'lone avenger of the night' who doesn't 'play well with others', but you have to let him, or her, know that you're sorry, but you're not the only person at the table.
 
The group's size, scope, 'vibe', and especially it's interpersonal dynamic, will determine a great deal about the campaign, and vice versa.
 
I think all too often, many GMs think of the team in a Superhero game the way they think of the party in D&D. Basically, the GM creates an adventure, and a setting for it to be in, and the players generate a bunch of adventurers who go check it out. It really doesn't matter to the adventure who the PCs are, as any group of thrill-seeking, treasure hunters will do.
 
You can certainly run a Supers game this way, and in fact, in the good ol' days of running Villains & Vigilantes we probably did just that.

I personally take a different approach, and the results are usually much more gratifying.

For the team to really shine as a team, they need to be on the same page. The individual team members may have different styles, approaches, goals, and certainly personal demons, but they share the ideals of truth, justice, helping defend the defenseless and stopping villainy. In addition, it's helpful if some ideal, event, or other element unites the group in a more encompassing way. 
 
The New Teen Titans, the 80's smash-hit comic by Marv Wolfman, and George Perez, began with a story of how one of it's members, Raven, formed the group in order to combat the menace of her father, a demonic entity known as Trigon. One of the great early stories revolved around Starfire's evil sister Blackfire, and a battle with the Citadel, alien tyrants who were enemies of Starfire's people, the Tamaraneans.

In the first instance, while the introduction to the campaign was clearly focused on the Raven PC, it effected all the PCs, as Trigon threatens the entire world. In addition, her backstory and arch-enemy was the catalyst for getting the team together.

In the second example, the team had grown fond of fellow member Starfire, and certainly wanted to help her against her extraterrestrial enemies. A romantic subplot would later develop between the Starfire PC, and another PC, Robin/Nightwing.
 
From Marvel's Fantastic Four, to DCs Legion of Superheroes, many teams have members whose origins, allies, and enemies effect not just themselves, but the entire group for years and years to come.
 
The nature of the team determines the type of adventures they go on, and the kinds of villains they face. While it's distinctly possible in the universe of Marvel Comics that the Heroes for Hire might face off against Thanos, it is much more likely they are going to do battle with the Kingpin, or similar street-level organized crime figures.

The Defenders had a tendency to do battle with much stranger, esoteric, supernatural enemies than the Avengers did, while the X-Men's enemies are usually directly connected to the X-Men's status as a team of Mutants.

Consider the difference in character relationships on different superhero teams. The Titans are a family, but there is also a lot of teen romance and angst. The same is true with the Legion, but it's larger membership means the relationships are all the more complex. The Justice League and Justice Society, at least classically, are all adult, professional, friends who happen to work at the same job. In the Silver and Bronze Ages, it wasn't strange to see Clark Kent (Superman) grab a cup of coffee with Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), or the whole group go to a barbeque over at Ralph and Sue Dibney's house (Ralph being the Elongated Man). By contrast, the Avengers are sometimes friends, and sometimes at each others throats.

Be they World Protectors, Neighborhood Patrol, Space Police, or The Teen Team, each superteam's unique personality and style should be reflected in the campaign's design, and the atmosphere the campaign features should be seen among the members of the team.

Our own team is still forming it's group identity, though they share a desire to protect innocent people from those who would use superhuman might, dark magics, and advanced technology to cause them harm.

Super Thoughts Continue...

AD
Barking Alien
 

 
 

Monday, December 29, 2014

ALL ACCESS! What in Blue Blazes?!

Imagine if you will one of those company wide, crossover events that comics seem to have weekly nowadays.

Try to remember a time (if you can, and are able to since you were alive and of reading age at that point) when said events mattered. A time when these types of comic book 'Maxi-Series' and 'Mini-Series' were rare, special, occurring perhaps once every few years. The stories in these books were epic, gathering nearly ever major hero and villain together to battle each other, or combining their forces to stop an even greater threat to the very existence of their universe.

Now imagine that the first session of your new Superhero campaign, is the final issue of such a series.


 
 
My apologies to Mike Zeck and Bob Layton, and to George Perez.
 
 
Our story begins at the end of the world, the destruction of the universe, the final moments for all of time, and space.

The Anti-Monitor, a cosmic entity from the Anti-Matter Universe, was using a wave of Anti-Matter to annihilate reality after reality. As each universe perished, it's energies were absorbed into his 'Life-Shell' armor, increasing his powers. In addition, the Anti-Matter Universe would increase in volume in order to fill the dimensional void that the destroyed universes had left behind.

Meanwhile, The Beyonder, another vastly powerful entity (hailing from beyond our multiverse, in a dimension known only as, 'The Beyond Realm'), discovered the Anti-Monitor's activities, and was both fascinated, and displeased. While there was nothing he could do about those universes that were already gone, the Beyonder wasn't about to let him eliminate the universe of Champions Earth-Delta Ceti Mu Alpha Delta-1, better known as Champions Earth-Max Duo-1. Max Duo-1 was a favorite of the Beyonder's, for reasons as yet unrevealed.

By utilizing his own reality-warping powers, Beyonder began to absorb the energy bleed off of the various universes wiped out by the Anti-Monitor's Entropic Wave (aka The Anti-Matter Wave) at the moment of their destruction. The wave would wipe out a universe in a destructive cascade, empowering The Beyonder, then the remains of the universe itself would be absorbed by the Anti-Monitor, empowering him. Finally, the quantum space the universe once occupied would be filled with the Anti-Matter Universe.

The Beyonder's end goal was to protect the reality of Champions Earth-Max Duo-1...by making himself a nigh infinitely powerful god-like being in control of it!

While these two villains battled each other for ownership of all existence, the heroes of Max Duo-1 had assembled in an attempt to stop them. After 11 issues of large failures, and all too few small victories, the World's Greatest, and Earth's Mightiest Heroes joined together for one last ditch effort.

Prof. Reed Richard/Mr. Fantastic, The Atom, Iron Man, Mr. Terrific, Doctor Strange, and Doctor Fate, combined their vast knowledge, both technological and arcane, to create a towering device that would set their Earth 'out of phase'. By vibrating at a quantum frequency all its own, their world would theoretically be safe in a dimensional warp all its own while the Anti-Matter Wave passed harmlessly by.

The key to machine's operation was a circular, treadmill-like running track, and four energy conversion ports. The Flash would run around the track, using his incredible speed, and ability to enter alternate dimensions unaided to set the right quantum vibration. Then, the device would receive 'fuel' in the form of the emerald energies of Green Lantern, the nuclear forces of Captain Atom, the Nega-Bands of Mar-Vell of the Kree Empire, and cosmically powered blasts of Alex Summers, the Mutant known as Havok.

By now you understand what is transpiring here, do you not dear reader? Or at the very least, where this new campaign takes place?

Yes my cosmically curious cohorts, this is a joint Marvel and DC universe, where the two companies milieu are combined together. They are not merged. You will find no amalgamated Bruce Parkers, or Clark Rogers here. Superman is Superman, Spiderman is Spiderman. New York City is home to the Avengers, while the Justice League and Superman are headquartered in Metropolis, somewhere in Delaware.

The plot of the story combines and modifies the stories of DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Marvel's Secret Wars (and a little Secret Wars II).

While this sounds long winded and even confusing to anyone who is not a huge comics fan, it was so simple when I described it to the players that we went from introduction, to exposition, to play in about 5 minutes. I s*^% you not! Some of the details above were learned later in the session. It wasn't until the end that we were able to go back over everything to put the events in their proper order. There was also an epilogue, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now, back to our story...
 
So close to success were the diabolical, dimensional deities (at least in each of their own minds), that they couldn't let any actions by the stalwart, Samaritan sentinels stop their parallel planet pummeling plans!

Both the Anti-Monitor, and the Beyonder gathered armies of supervillains to foil the heroes, and perhaps destroy their device. In addition, many villains were sent after items of power, such as The Infinity Gems, or The Spear of Destiny, just in case the heroes attempted to use those artifacts against one of the big bads.






This is where the PCs come in*. Teams of heroes, new, old, B-List to D-List, were sent about the world to obtain these items, or at the very least, keep them out of the hands of the enemy.

The PCs were one such team, and after quickly dispatching their first opponents to retrieve a very special I-Ching hidden away beneath the great temple at Nanda Parbat, the group went to assist another team having a much harder time of retrieving the Holy Grail, currently hidden away in Kyoto, Japan**.

Tomorrow: The team. Their tussles. The outcome!

All this in a double sized issue (64 pages, No ads!).


AD
Barking Alien

*This really is odd. In recapping this first session it looks as if the NPCs got all the screen time. It wasn't like that at all. We got into the story quickly, and right into the action just as fast.

Periodically, our 'team leader', Marcus' character, would check in with Captain America to update him on the team's status, or get a status update from him. That is where a lot of this exposition came from (a nifty trick I learned running Marvel Heroic with the kids at the tutoring center).

By breaking up the info they received and sent out into smaller bites scattered throughout the session, I was able to make the situation seem both desperate ("Can't talk now, Black Adam just took out Iron Man! I'll call you back when I can!"), and kept the vast majority of the focus on the PCs.




 


Sunday, December 28, 2014

ALL ACCESS! Say you!

Posts are light for all our brethren this time of year it seems. No matter. I have something to talk about, and FINALLY, time with which to talk about it!

My group's new Champions 4th Edition campaign has had one session, and that session freakin' ROCKED!

It's hard to believe it worked as well as it did, but if it hadn't I would've probably turned in my gaming credentials, and taking up stamp collecting as a hobby instead.

I really put thought, and prep time into how to make this particular campaign idea work with this particular group. It appears to have been time well spent.



The JLA vs. The Avengers
Commission work by John Byrne*
 
 
HERE'S WHAT I WAS UP AGAINST:

Out of 7 players, only 3 are hard core Superhero comic book fans. There are 2 people who generally like comic books, but 1 is a casual fan, and 1 is more of an indie/Vertigo fan (not as into traditional Superhero comics). The remaining 2 are more Anime/Manga fans, only generally familiar with Superheroes through animated movies, TV shows, and live-action cinema.

To run a game to the best of one's abilities, one should run what one knows, and loves. For me, in the genre of Superheroes, that's the subgenre/specific style of comics most prevalent during the late 50's to mid 80's, otherwise referred to as The Silver Age, and The Bronze Age. Now, if you think it would be tricky to run a Supers game for a group in which more than half the members aren't all that familiar with Superhero comics, what are the odds they're going to comprehend the tropes of a particular era of Superhero comics.

Yeah. Exactly.

Finally, I noticed that a good number of the players tend to run the same types of characters from game to game, regardless of genre. They also tend to approach our games with a particular mindset, regardless of the setting, story, etc. How do I get those same players to play a bit outside their comfort zone, thereby avoiding the same old mistakes, and problems, without making them feel so uncomfortable that they lose enthusiasm for the game, and/or their characters?




HERE'S HOW I HANDLED IT:

First, we (those more heavily into American Superhero comics) gave those less familiar with the genre recommendations as to what to read, and watch to get the right feel for the campaign.

This post ,as it turns out, helped a bit, but not in the way I would've expected. Even before serving as a resource list of places the players could look to for an accurate sense of the games atmosphere and styling, it served as a benchmark to determine what they were already familiar with. Had they even heard of the Justice, or New Frontier series. Did they know who the All Star Squadron or Legion of Superheroes were? How much catching up was required? This allowed Dave, and myself (veterans of both Comic Book and Superhero RPG fandom), and to a lesser extent Ray, to direct the others more specifically and effectively.

Since I was really going for a very particular era of comics, and I realized that even reading those comics may not secure the concept in the heads of the uninitiated (they hadn't grown up on them - they aren't at the impressible age I was when I encountered these stories for the first time), I went to other more readily available sources.

For example, although also influenced by Golden Age comics, the animated series of Batman: The Brave & The Bold is a recent, widely accessible source of Silver Age goodness. Likewise, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a strong early Marvel to Bronze Age Marvel love letter to some of the greatest stories in Avengers history (as well as the histories of some of it's individual members). While incorporating both Marvel Cinematic and current comic book elements, the show is really a shining example of The Avengers in it's Bronze Age heyday.

Now the last part was perhaps the hardest feat for me, for us as a group, to accomplish, even though the solution was quite simple. I simply said no to character concepts that I didn't feel fit the bill.

Normally, I give the players in my campaigns very general parameters for character creation. I see what they come up with, and build our game around their ideas. This time, I said this (Silver/Bronze Age Superheroes) is what I want to run. Make a character for this.

I'm sure I frustrated one or two of the players, but I also got some fantastic characters out of them. Chief among them is Will's character, and that is a big deal for me.You see, Will is the most active player in the game with the least amount of comic book knowledge.

***
 
Also...

Will is an Anime/Manga fan going way back (although oddly, so am I). His head appears to think in a Japanese storytelling way, not an American storytelling way. What do I mean? Well, simply put, I have noticed for some time now that all the backstories for his character involve a motivating situation, one that propels his character forward toward adventure, or into teaming with the others. Awesome right? A GM's dream you say. It starts as a dream certainly, but it becomes a nightmare very quickly.

Will's first, and foremost goal upon the start of the campaign is to solve his background drawback. For example, in Traveller, he began with the backstory that his character was looking for her runaway son. Cool. Episode one, first few moments of the game, he hires the rest of the PCs to help find the son. I liked that idea, and managed to spread out the search, and rescue into a really good adventure arc.

Then in Bushido, his Samurai's backstory involved him raising his daughter as the Mom died in childbirth. The mother's spirit haunts the house the father and daughter live in. What is the first thing he does? As soon as he is given the chance he wants to have everyone explore the house, discover info about the ghost, and possibly find a way to exercise it.

In Superhero terms, imagine Uncle Ben is dead, and Peter Parker now has to care for his feeble Aunt May in addition to finishing High School, and of course, being Spiderman. Will's Peter Parker would've made a phone call in the first five minutes of the game to have Aunt May put in a nursing home so he doesn't have to worry about Aunt May.


 
You bastard. How could you do that to Aunt May.


While I may be stretching my theory here, I feel like his is following a Japanese comic book technique here, not an American one. He is trying to get to the 'end of the story'. Unlike American Superhero comics, which generally go on, and on forever, Japanese comics, Manga, tell stories with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. While those endings are sometimes kept vague in case the creator wants to revisit the setting, and characters again at some later date, most Manga series will have a last issue. Spiderman, and Superman, will not.

In the end, Will came up with an idea that was somewhat vague, and ill-defined. It was also perfect. Neither Will nor his character know the exact details of the character's background. He has a distinct goal, a questing beast to chase, but he doesn't actually know who it is, or why he is chasing them. (More about this in an upcoming post).

***

This one has run long so I'm going to stop here. There is more to come though, so please check back. I have a number of non-Supers related posts coming soon as well, so stay tuned.

Oh, before I go, a Very Happy Birthday to the one and only Stan 'The Man' Lee! Happy 92nd! EXCELSIOR!

AD
Barking Alien

*You may notice a lot of John Byrne art lately. That's because he is awesome. Also, while I haven't loved everything he's down professionally over the late decade, his commission work is astounding. Seriously. It amazes me how well he draws classic Superheroes when he doesn't have to draw them in comic books. Jeez. That reads like a slight, but I assure it's not. What I mean is, when he can draw an image in the way he wants to draw it, featuring characters he loves, you can see it in the picture. His feelings for the characters really come through.




LIMITED ACCESS

As the year draws to an end, I have a month worth of things to say, but little time to get it all blogged before the year is over.

Sigh.

I've been gaming a ton, since it's pretty much the only pastime I can participate in that doesn't cost me that much anymore*. I've been working as much as possible, to make as much as possible, to barely break even (*sob*), but when I have had a day off, I've gamed.

Additionally, I get to game as part of one of my jobs, working with kids at a tutoring center on the weekend, and I wouldn't change that experience for the world. I get to GM for some great, sharp, creative youngsters, and I get to use the medium to teach English and Creative Writing. What could be better than that, eh?

So, a lot of gaming, a lot of working, not a lot of sleeping. Luckily, sleep is not a major necessity for me. Add to this some issues with my computer late November, and early December, and blogging has suffered immensely. It's a bummer, as I've mentioned before. Blogging is something I really love doing, and not doing it makes me feel like I'm, I don't know, operating 'below standards'. My own standards. It's writing, about games, and as such it should be something I can do. Maybe I'm being too tough on myself, but it's my benchmark for how I handle my personal life's particular level of crazy. Right now, I don't feel I'm up to snuff.

So, I'm working on it.

My most recent forays have been hit and miss. When they've hit, they've hit BIG, with a mushroom cloud level of BOOM! When they've missed, well, the players have smiled, said the game was fun, but in my gut I know it was way off the mark.

I am hoping to do some posts before the month ends regarding my group's new Champions game, but I also have some ideas bubbling up on some very different subjects.

Between this post, and the end of the month, I hope to get in as many posts as I can. If not, I'll have a lot of material for the New Year.

Gotta stay positive.

Happy Holidays to all my fans (yes you Hobo Joe), friends, family, and the fans, friends, and family of my fans, friends, and family. Happy New Year to you all as well.

Talk to you soon,

AD
Barking Alien


*Most of the games I run I own, and have owned for a good number of years.

Sadly, nothing has come out over the last year or two that I want so bad I have to buy it. I am more than happy to read a friend's copy. If there is something of considerable interest (and honestly, I can't rightly recall anything of that nature in the past year or so), I might get the pdf.

I have a very tight budget, and the gaming industry has been doing a wonderful job of helping me maintain it. I miss buying RPGs, but I miss companies making games I want to buy even more.



Thursday, December 25, 2014

ALL ACCESS! Oh My Stars and Garters!

I don't why I keep imagining that free time will pop-up out of nowhere, and enable me to get back to blogging regularly. It hasn't so far. Alas, I am every of the optimist.

From whence does this lofty sense of optimism come you ask? Well, Superfans and True Believers, it hails from beyond the mortal keen, to whatever strange source of power bestows upon me my ability to GM. For know you this, my friends and I aligned the stars just so, and I ran the fabulous first session of our new Champions 4th Edition campaign...




Yes Caped Crusaders, Green Goliaths, Maids of Might, and Merry Mutants, The Barking Alien Gaming Group (official title as of a year or so ago) has finally managed to assemble a Superhero game which (based on player, and GM reactions alike) looks like it has some legs to it.

And that's not all...Marcus is back.
 



For those unfamiliar with Marcus, he is a friend of mine, of ours, the group's that is, and was a player in our campaigns up until I kicked him out of the group approximately five months ago. Prior to that I had never kicked anyone out of any gaming group I've ever been a part of. Not in 37 years. You can read all the gory details if you like, but I'd rather focus on new beginnings.

In the five months that's he's been away, Marcus took on the role Gamemaster for some friends, largely running Dragon Age. In addition to experiencing some of his own medicine in the form of players trying to get away either his sanity or the game, he gained greater insight on being a good player by learning to be a good referee.

Marcus told me he began by reading the Gamemaster section of the Dragon Age rulebook, and then went on to check out articles and blog posts on GMing advice. He also, I discovered this past weekend, revealed to me that he reads this blog, something I had no idea he did.

The end result was a manifold change I didn't expect. He was truly sorry for his previous approach to our games, and desperately wanted another chance to game with the group. I should add that 'desperately' is not used here to illustrate a man desperate for inclusion just for inclusion's sake. Rather, this is a man who realized he really liked the group and the GM he had played with. After experiencing other gamers, he felt our campaigns were simply of superior quality (His words, not mine). He decided the flaw he had experienced, the obstacles to his fun, and ours, were situations he created himself.

I brought the idea before the rest of the group, and while there had been some raw nerves, and bad blood, they all unanimously agreed to give him another shot. While we don't feel it's right for him to return to the Traveller campaign, he is a perfect fit for this new Supers campaign (or rather the 'new him' is).

The hunches paid off a thousand fold. Marcus loves his character, everyone liked how it was used, and how he interacted with the rest of the team. Combined with an excellent, classically comic book backstory, Marcus' character adds a lot to the setting and the group dynamic.

I am very happy overall, and particularly proud of Marcus.

Marcus is not the only one deserving of kudos. The team performed beautifully. Lots of character banter, great role-playing, mighty fine teamwork against so very tough adversaries, and a lot of story potential going forward.

Well, that's all for this post. Much more to come as I describe the campaign's setting, the PCs, and what is in store for future sessions.

Later Days...of Future Past,

AD
Barking Alien





Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CHAMPIONS: ALL ACCESS!

Guess who's back baby?




Yes faithful followers, frequent friends, and finders of the fantastic, it is I, Adam 'Barking Alien' Dickstein, here once again to issue insight into the intriguing, and mayhap, the impossible!


 
Commission Penciled and Ink By the legendary John Byrne
Colors By Mark Dominic
 

Things with me have been downright rough and tumble lately, and honestly, it doesn't look like peace and tranquility will be anywhere in sight for some time. Some much for good will towards man.

That being said, I am still looking forward to my gaming group's next major campaign endeavor, a new attempt at Superhero gaming entitled: CHAMPIONS: ALL ACCESS!

With the game just a few days away, I am going to start to reveal some behind-the-scenes information on what this campaign is about, what it took to put it together, and related notes and ideas on running a Supers campaign.

We've had several false starts with this particular genre, but this time I really think we have a chance at something awesome.

Up, Up and Away True Believers!

AD
Barking Alien


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Super Senses and Sensibilities

Greetings Barking Alien Lovers!

OK, well, Hobo Joe. Greetings Hobo Joe! Glad you're still here...hey...Hobo Joe? Where ya goin'?


 

No, no Hobo Joe, you got it all wrong. I didn't forget about you, man. I've just been crazy busy with real life is all.

When I said expect the extraordinary, you didn't think I meant it would be coming this month did you? Heh...um...no, no. I meant in December. Yep. ^ ^;

It turns out I needed a temporary hiatus from blogging, although I didn't know I did until it happened. I also didn't exactly want one. Long story short, I may still be rather sporadic for a bit, but December is looking to be when everything will be back on track.

I hope.

In the meantime...

While I may not have been telling you lot about any of my gaming ideas lately, that doesn't mean I haven't been having any. Oh contraire! My brain has been a buzz! It's been bubbling with bonafide, brilliant, bursts of bombastic badassery.

The subject? Superheroes of course. Couldn't you tell by my use of alliteration?

With a more direct hand in character creation and design, I have managed to get the players to (finally) comprehend the type of campaign setting I'm going for, without actually giving them too much information about the campaign itself. The idea being that I already know the style, theme, atmosphere, etc. of the campaign, and I just needed the PC heroes to fit that milieu.

Not having the majority of the players know the ins and outs of the game's setting is quite liberating. I have noticed that many modern players (heck, even those who started gaming within the last twenty years or so) get very hung up on setting. To me, the proliferation of setting heavy games, as opposed to those that provide a 'generic' system, but not so much a canon setting, actually made things more difficult for us 'genre junkies'.

Stay with me here and I'll try to explain.

If you tell players you're running a Star Trek game for example, and they aren't people for whom that is an instant guarantee of compatible fun, you are liable to get several responses:

***

I don't know enough about Star Trek to play in that universe/setting.

I can't play that. I can't take all those rubber aliens and cardboard sets seriously.

I know a lot about Star Trek (but I don't have a Star Trek game mindset), so I'm going to come up with some cockamamie story so I can be a Q in your TOS era game.

***

Yeah.

Meanwhile, if you describe a space exploration game, with a sixties style, space opera motif, in which the PCs all serve on a starship in service of an alliance of Humans and aliens, you'll probably end up with some very Trek appropriate PCs.

That's essentially what I've done here with our new Supers campaign. I've assisted the players in coming up with genre appropriate characters, as opposed to characters appropriate to a specific setting. Now, as a result, they not only fit the setting perfectly, but they add to it as well.

Final pre-production and production elements are going on this week. Hopefully I will be able to reveal the results of my efforts very soon

See you in December everybody!

AD
Barking Alien



Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rebel, Rebel

I apologize for not posting much so far this month, but I've been busy. I know that's not much of an excuse, but seriously, I've been working late every weekday night for the last two and a half week. I am just so tired.

Tired is a new state of being for me, and one I will freely admit I am not particularly fond of.

I've had insomnia for most of my life (Seriously. Since Middle School at least), and as such, developed the belief that sleep is for the weak. It's bad. You get nothing done. I mean, Mozart, Shakespeare, Jack Kirby - it's a good bet they did most of their great works while awake.

The point is, I'm used to not sleeping very much. I am used to being active for a good 18 to 20 hours each day. Feeling tired, and needing to sleep, throws off my whole schedule.

How do you Humans do it?

Anyway...enough about my peculiar, alien, physiology. Have you seen this?:




Star Wars Rebels is a CGI animated television series produced by Lucasfilm, and Lucasfilm Animation, in association with the Disney Channel (for Disney XD). It is currently up to its seventh episode I believe.

It's good. Really good. Not great mind you, at least not yet. It's getting there, and it has tons of potential.

While it shares many of the same staff as Star Wars The Clone Wars, this newer show somehow doesn't look, sound, or function quite as polished as the last seasons of its predecessor. Seems odd to me that this doesn't look even better right out of the gate, but instead Star Wars Rebels more closely resembles Clone Wars' first or second season.

That reminds me, did you get to see or hear about this:




The upcoming Star Wars Episode VII is going to be called The Force Awakens according to a plethora of sources on the internet. This means there is a 45% chance that it's true. OK, maybe 50%.

Not the worst name I've ever heard (The Phantom Menace anyone? Yeah.), though not super exciting either.

Name aside, I am starting to get more excited about this movie. Generally I've become very wary of sequels, especially those looking to continue a popular franchise I love. J.J. Abrams, who directed the two reboot Star Trek films, Cloverfield, and other bad movies, has been given the helm on this new Star Wars installment, and that certainly doesn't fill me with confidence. At the same time, the Star Trek films sucked because they were too Star Wars-like. Maybe he can get his space IPs straight this time.

Now that I look more closely at the title logo, I'm not particularly keen on it. I'm hoping this is preliminary, and they go back to the style we've seen with the past films.

Will the lens flares be strong with this one? That's the real trick isn't it?

All of this has put the bug of running a Star Wars RPG game in my mind. Perhaps just a one-shot or short campaign series to get it out of my system. Who knows? At present, extra time, and players with open schedules, are definitely not 'my thing'.

Trust in the Force.

AD
Barking Alien



Sunday, November 2, 2014

Expect The Extraordinary

Don't be surprised if this month is kinda Superhero heavy.



MARVELS Panel By Alex Ross
 
 
In addition to the weekly online Superhero game I'm in as a player, and the bi-weekly (or so) Supers game where I switch between player (mostly), and guest GM (occasionally), I am gearing up for a new Superhero RPG campaign with my regular group to begin (hopefully) in December.
 
Dang, but that was one of my most annotated paragraphs in a while. Sheesh.
 
Back to the subject of this post, it looks like my group may finally be getting the Four-Color Superhero genre the way I see it, and that is a big plus in my attempt to run something with a little staying power. Our last few attempts at Superhero campaigns have often experienced great starts, but quickly buckle under a combination of the players being unfamiliar with the tropes of the era of comics I like, and my frustration with them not comprehending what to me is so second nature I don't even think about it.
 
Truly this is unfair of me, I know. I can't expect them to understand something largely foreign to them, which I've spent almost 40 years being engrossed in (See my recent post, A Secret War). At the same time, as I've said before, I have tried to provide them with frames of reference, and a few of them are familiar with the era, and style of comic books I'm talking about.
 
On the suggestion of my good pal Dave*, I have attempted to approach this campaign, and character creation specifically, in a slightly different manner than that which I've used in the past. In my mind, I have been a tad more heavy-handed in telling the players what I'm looking for with this game. Dave was insistent that I had to be if I wanted to run a particular type of Superhero game. I do believe he's right.
 
It may not be my preferred way of doing things, but the results have been pretty good so far.
 
As expected, I still have two players who's characters are a tad off, although mostly in their powers. Their backstories and such are excellent. They are coming around, albeit a little slowly. That's OK by me. Take all the time you need to get the parts to fit together I say.
 
Expect updates on the PCs and the setting (still a mystery to most of the players! Yay!), ideas and attitudes toward running Supers, and anything else that pops up while I develop this campaign.
 
Questions and comments are always welcome!
 
Oh, and if you know of any good Superhero tabletop RPG blogs or podcasts, send them my way. Thanks!
 
 
AD
Barking Alien
 
*Dave is/was, surprisingly, having the most trouble with the overall feel of the campaign, even though he is my biggest advocate for the running of Superhero games.
 
Dave is not a fan of the Silver/Bronze Age periods of comics. I find this somewhat perplexing, even knowing the reasons for his opinion. My point to him was, "utilize the tropes and style, but add what you felt the comics of that era were missing".
 
It's comic books, not brain surgery, yet sometimes I think it would be easier to assemble a Brain Surgery RPG than one of the former type.
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday The Thirty First...The Thirteenth

Today marks the 13th day in a row I've worked.




The thirteenth, and coincidentally on Halloween by jove! Couldn't have planned that better if I'd tried. Only because if I tried, it surely wouldn't have worked out this way.

I find myself considerably lacking in Halloween spirit this year. I'm just too damn beat.

No costume, no jack o' lantern, no horror movies from Netflix (not that I really ever watch horror movies). None of that this year. Not even in the mood for candy corn.

Maybe next year.

I'm going to bed.

AD
Barking Alien



Thursday, October 30, 2014

From Splash Page to The Silver Screen

As a fan of Superheroes, comic books, movies, and Superhero RPGs, I feel obligated to say something about the recently updated Marvel Cinematic Universe film release schedule.




HOLY HULK ON A HELICARRIER!


The Black Panther! Yes! Captain Marvel? Oh yeah! The Inhumans...wait...really? AWESOME!

I am told DC is also going to make some movies. *Yawn*

Here's the thing...I love Superhero movies because I love Superheroes. I love Superheroes because I grew up on comic books. If the movies are awesome, but the comic books suck, I am less likely to be jazzed about the films.

Marvel is doing a pretty good job on it's comic books right now. Not perfect, and there's lots of room for improvement, but generally speaking, Marvel comics are good. Since their comics are good, I am interested in their movies.

Since the DC characters I love are really no longer around, and the films seem more aligned with the newer incarnations, I really have no interest in the DC movies at all.

At least I have The Flash TV series. I am really liking The Flash.

AD
Barking Alien








Monday, October 27, 2014

Prepare Yourself For Being Unprepared

Welcome back to Barking Alien.

Sorry it's taken me so long to do this follow up post, but things have been hectic (in a mostly positive way) here at Barkley's Den (mostly positive. mostly).

Today, we're going to teach you how you can prepare a four course Dynamic Dungeon for five or six people, in half the time you'd think it takes.

To start off, you have to understand that most Gamemasters ^#@*ing over-prepare.

***

What Other GMs Do Wrong: Over-Prepare

I'll be the first to say that I over-prepare myself on occasion. It usually ends up happening when I am running a one-shot, especially at a convention. Additionally, I would definitely prefer to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Just makes sense.

That said, the key to an ongoing, dynamic, 'living' (or whatever you want to call it) setting, be it a dungeon, a city, or something else, isn't piles of notebooks, and a metric ton of spreadsheets. No, no, no, my chart and table obsessed cousins.* The secret is preparing not to be prepared. Carefully planning to ad lib. Focusing less on what might happen, and more on what would happen.

Enough fancy word play, eh? Straight talk...

Basically, you need not know the ins and outs of every denizen of a Dynamic Dungeon, anymore than you personally know the comings and goings of every person who lives, and/or works in your home town or city. I am certain that in many very small, rural, and even suburban towns, it can feel like you really do know everyone's business, but lets get some perspective.

I live in New York City, and more specifically the central borough of Manhattan. Manhattan alone has over 1,625,150 people. The city, complete with its infrastructure of maintenance personnel, police, firefighters, EMS workers, sanitation workers, and those who run our mass transit system, work and function on a daily basis completely independent (and likely unaware) of me. I benefit greatly from the system of people and services that make this city run, but I don't have much impact on their lives, nor they on mine on a one-on-one basis.

This is how your basic Dynamic (and potentially Ideal) Dungeon works. You don't manage, or worry about, every single individual being in the place anymore than you are currently worried about what that nice fellow who works at the newspaper stand is doing right now. What's he going to have for breakfast tomorrow? Oh no! How can I plan my day not knowing what he'll have for breakfast?!

Chill the hell out.

He will have breakfast, more than likely, and then he will be there when you go to get your paper in the morning. Some stuff just works, and keeps working.

Think in broader strokes. Focus on ways to portray the dynamic nature of a setting so that it feels dynamic. Don't get caught up in the minutia of running a town, and trying to determine every last detail. It serves no purpose, and only bogs you down and burns you out.

Think about it for a moment; how much of the complex economic and sociological matrixes you've developed to explain how the dungeon as living environment works are the PCs actually going to see and interact with? Probably very little. So there is no need for them.

All you need is a little common sense.

Let's look at some techniques for prepping a Dynamic Dungeon.


***
 

#1. Back to Basics (Of Information)

In your GM notes, place a sheet of paper with the name of your dungeon, and the elements of it's nature that you need to know to run an adventure there. What do you need to know? Well, it will be different for different GMs, but mine would look something like this...


The Endless Labyrinth


 
The part of the Endless Labyrinth
will be played by the labyrinth from Labyrinth.


Concept: Greedy Merchant Baron commissions massive, underground labyrinth to hide his treasure, and his daughter. Is tricked by daughter's true love to use his friends as the Architect, The Builder, The Trapmaker, and the Artificer. Friends than tell true love how to get in and past everything. True love runs away with daughter, leaves note to Baron that he left treasure behind. Merchant Baron enters his own labyrinth to find his own treasure, gets lost. Forever.

Design: Seemingly endless maze. Cursed. Many traps. Few monsters, mostly undead, and The Juggernaut.

Inhabitants: Undead adventurers who tried to find the treasure in the labyrinth and never escaped. Skeletons, Ghosts, Zombies, etc. Unique Monster(s): The Juggernaut of the Endless Labyrinth, a clockwork/near-robot metal golem. Super strong, super tough, smart. Knows all the secret ways around the maze.

Special: Cursed location. If you die of starvation, dehydration, old age, or other natural causes while lost in the maze, you resurrect as a 'greater' undead, and continue searching for the treasure, or a way out. If you are killed in the maze by the Juggernaut, or an already existing undead being, you return in a lesser fashion - pretty much a mindless guardian of the area where you died.

Most of the undead are therefore explorers who died searching the labyrinth for riches, and/or a way out. Very few static monsters. PCs are in motion, undead are in motion.

Notes: Possible society of living people, or humanoids (Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, etc.) who took up residence in maze when they realized they couldn't find a way out. They have organized various means of obtaining food, and other basic necessities.

That's it. That is the entirety of my initial write up on this dungeon, which incidentally is a major, mythic site on my campaign world of Aerth (for my D&D-But-Not games). No one has ever even found the place. Why do I need more than this?


#2. A Sense of Purpose

For the denizens of your dungeon to have a dynamic society, there must be a reason they're there. They're needs to be something they are doing there, or need to do, that requires they live in the conditions of a dungeon. It need not be a complex, 'ecology of the...' reason, but it definitely should make sense.

Why? So that when encountered, the creatures therein act first, and foremost based on the motivation that this [the dungeon], is their home, their fortified base of operations, or what-have-you. When PCs do something in the dungeon, and you as GM need to determine what course of action the inhabitants of this domain take, it is imperative you know why they are there in the first place.

Is this their only home after being driven out of the nearby caves by Dwarves? Is this the only place they can find the rare plant, or foodstuff they need to survive? The inhabitants of such a place will likely defend it to the death!

On the other hand, are they just hired help, brought in by some evil priest or mad wizard to protect a project their employer is working on? If so, do they feel it's worth dying for?

#3. Where Do We Go From Here?

Quo vadis? Where are you going?

Why is this a dynamic environment? It's a dynamic environment because the elements of it move and change.

That is to say, once you know why the beings in this dungeon are in this dungeon, and you know why they'll move about, and what their motivations are for doing so are, you have to think of where they will go, and what they will do next. By putting some thought into the destinations of the populace should an emergency arise (like an invasion by PC adventurers hell-bent on killing them all, and stealing their livelihoods), you make your Dynamic Dungeons actually feel dynamic without A) having to do too much prep, and B) not having to worry about every, single, individual beastie.

Some will never move because they are mere monstrous beasts, locked in a room to guard something, or because they were caught and kept as a pet by the inhabitants of the dungeon. Perhaps the non-combat types such as children, the elderly, the infirm, etc. will be escorted to safer rooms deeper in the complex by more able bodied, but still non-warrior, denizens. Combat types will move to engage, or search the corridors for the sneaky intruders.

Having a rough idea of who is in there, and where they will go, is what will take you from static to dynamic without making you spastic.*


#4. All Dynamic Dungeons Start Static

Take a mental photograph of your Dungeon. Imagine this snapshot is a typical day in the life of all the denizens of this Dungeon. Unless something significant disturbs the routine, this picture you have is a perfect representation of this Dungeon at whatever time of day, or night you imagine it depicts.

This is how your Dungeon looks when the PCs enter it. This is your starting point. Regardless of what they are doing back in town, unless it somehow specifically messes with this picture, the PCs will find the Dungeon looking like your snapshot when they enter it. You need this base picture the way a marathon runner needs the starting line to run a race, or a fairy tale needs some point to serve as it's 'Once Upon a Time'.

***

I could easily go on, and on with this, but I hope what I have put here so far will help take the edge off attempting to run a Dynamic Dungeon. I mean, IMHO, if you are running a dungeon crawl, you're already running the most boring type of adventure possible. At least these notes may help pump a little life into it. :p

Now let's get to something more interesting. Like Superheroes!

Heh. Just being snarky. Good gaming all!


But seriously...let's get back to Supers.


AD
Barking Alien


*I apologize to my British readers. I am aware that 'spastic' has negative connotations in your vernacular. Here in the USA it's a slang term meaning clumsy, goofy, uncoordinated and frazzled to the point of making stupid mistakes.