Friday, December 31, 2010

A Beast of A Year



Goodbye and good riddance to 2010, a beast of a year.

Hello 2011, a year I hope makes me howl with joy.

Happy New Year Everybody and Good Gaming to All!



AD
Barking Alien





Thursday, December 30, 2010

Trying to Spin Gold into Lead

Hey gang! Happy Nearly New Year to all!I want to thank everyone who commented (and those that didn't. My page hits are high recently. Don't be afraid to talk. I don't bite. What? Barkley's wants me to assure you that he most certainly does however) and showed an interest in Aliens and Astrobases. Rest assured it will be made. When and how remains to be seen.

Kobold commented, " So why wed yourself to OSR if it will give you hives and, as you say, your game has evolved in your head?"

An excellent question with a barely rational answer. For a pretty rational and logical fellow I do sometimes have patterns of thinking that show off the geek in me. And those aren't hives...its just a mild skin irritation.

Let me see if I can make clearer what I'm trying to do by way of this somewhat odd example:


Let's say, when you were little, your Aunt made these amazing Gingerbread Pumpkin Cookies.

Now people make Pumpkin Cookies and people make Gingerbread Cookies, yet nobody but nobody makes Gingerbread Pumpkin Cookies like Auntie did.

Well Auntie's passed on and she was never any good at writing down recipes. That stinks because this holiday season you are determined to remake her awesome cookies. You research and talk to family members, check out Cookie cookbooks and after a long time and a lot of work, you think you can make them. And you do. And everyone loves them.

They say they're lighter then Auntie's cookies. Yes, they melt in your mouth. They're more buttery! Not as sharp a ginger taste but sweeter. The whole family loves them!

But you don't. Why? Because they're better...but they're not your Aunt's Gingerbread Pumpkin Cookies. They just aren't the same.


See, I can make a good, no damn it, a GREAT Sci-Fi/Space Opera RPG. It would incorporate stuff from my favorite games and some nifty new ideas and focus on characters and story and relationships with the PCs, the NPCs and the vast galaxy they live in.

But that's not what I'm trying to do. I'm a modern aviation designer trying to restore a World War II airplane, not build the latest and greatest in aerospace technology.

I want to understand the old school and find a way to convey it in a Sci-Fi game that has classes, levels, an archaic experience point system, virtually no skills to speak of and the other things that people fond of those things are fond of.

Obviously you can see my handicap.

Kobold also said...

"I'm obviously a bit dense as I seriously don't get the whole OSR - good, everything else - bad. It would appear, from what I've seen and heard, that a number of these "retro-clones" are essentially various versions of D&D with all the rules the writer doesn't like thrown out and all his houserules stuck in. Am I missing something, here?"


No. At least not to me. As I've been researching this and reading my copies of Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardy and a few others, I'm struck with the notion that I have paid money for someone's campaign houserules for old editions of D&D.

Kudos! Seriously. As someone who views P.T. Barnum as an inspiration and personal hero I am all for getting the public to pay tickets to see the Bearded Lady, Lana the Hairy Woman and She-Wolf, Woman with a Beard and have them all be the same rather hirsute gal.
One interesting thing I'd like to end with is that everything on my blog is my opinion. Its not yours. It might be but for the most part all I can guarantee is its mine. I also have a rather peculiar sense of humor. So if I have offended your sensitivities over my particular approach to describing the old school - get over it. Kick your shoes off while you're here. Relax. Laugh for a change. Seriously, I have 62 followers. No ones going to know if you can over, stayed a bit, looked at some old posts and actually enjoyed yourself. I'm not gonna tell anybody. Dude chill, its all good.

AD
Barking Alien







Wednesday, December 29, 2010

OSR SF - Preliminary Scans




At this point its unlikely I'll be finished with my OSR, D&D inspired SF game by Saturday. Sad face.

There are a lot of reasons but the primary ones are quite simple:

Real life is a bit busier and more chaotic than I'd hoped this week.

I find myself distracted by projects I'm more interested in.

Deep down I'm just not an Old School guy and while I thought it might be fun to get this vision of an Old School Sci-Fi game that I've had in my head for 25+ years out of there, I realize that its been tucked away in a forgotten box in my mind for a reason. Its an old idea. Its an idea that I don't play with or use anymore. I keep wanting to add skill mechanics, relationship sub systems or special abilities for Aliens that really don't fit the Old School. I see why the games that have come out already (X-Plorers, Terminal Space, Stars Without Number) are built the way they are. A real D&D OSR SF game would suck. And be full of initials apparently.

So am I giving up? No! Never Give Up, Never Surrender! But I'm not going to finish it this week.

I want to get back to working on my person RPG project.

A friend has asked me to run Star Trek! Home sweet home!

I want to try out more Apocalyse World.

Games without limits! Games that evolve. The past is nice but I'm looking forward to the Future!

AD
Barking Alien










Monday, December 27, 2010

OSR - Outer Space Redux





First off, I've got to level with you. The last few days have been rough.

The Holiday largely stank, I'm just getting over a cold and I'm feeling those end of the year blues.


Of course, this is the time my mind decides is just picture perfect for a huge spurt of creativity. When I read over my last few posts I find them far to chaotic and unfocused. There are some cool ideas in there, but I'm not really selling them, or getting the point across.

The same thing can be said of some recent comments I made on other game blogs. I stand by what I said, but I wish I had explained myself more eloquently. One specific point I'd like to rectify was my mention of the RPG Stars Without Number.

Some may have gleaned from my post that I didn't think it was a good game. That couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I think it's an extremely good Science Fiction RPG, and quite well done. It reminds me a bit of my favorite RPG (well, one of my top three), the ICON System version of Star Trek by Last Unicorn Games. And therein lies the problem.

The game is too modern to convince me it is an OSR compatible Science Fiction game inspired by D&D. Its (and I don't mean to be facetious) too well put together. It makes almost too much sense the way they went about it. It needs to feel more clunky, arbitrary and odd. It doesn't need to really be those things, but it needs to generate that kind of vibe.

What I think an OSR Sci-Fi/Space Opera RPG should be like may well be impossible to make. Maybe it shouldn't be done. Honestly, I'm almost looking forward to a game I wouldn't play. Not really of course...but sort of.

To that end I issue myself a challenge! I, Adam Dickstein, will create an Old School, D&D inspired, Science Fiction/Space Opera RPG and save it to PDF by the First of the Year! Yes, racing rocket fans you heard (-pst-read-) er, read correctly. I give my lazy, candy ass 1 week to put my money where my mouth is and make Aliens and Astrobases available to the online viewing public. It'll be a nice practice run before I complete my real RPG project sometime in March. Who knows? Might have a hit and have to do a sellable version. Damn, but that would be funny, no?

Anyway, a few disclaimers...First and foremost, it might be very, very bad. Second, it will be an unplaytested game so it may have numerous flaws I don't even know about. Play it and send my feed back. It will have art but not a lot and not the best. I'll likely be using assorted old sketches from my previous Sci-Fi campaigns. Lastly, it will beg, borrow and steal heavily from Swords & Wizardry, Jeff Rients, SRS Basic* and numerous other places. I said I was going to do it in a week. I didn't say it was going to be super original or mind-blowing. This is more of an excercise in "Can Adam make the Old School feel, Sci-Fi RPG he always imagined TSR should've created but didn't."

It will be free to download but if you decide to use it as a substitute life support system device for intelligent, plant based aliens, I will have to charge you.


Comment, questions, words of encouragement and even the shaking of your heads is welcome.

I better get cracking!


AD
Barking Alien


*SRS Basic is the Basic version of the 'Standard Roleplaying System', the house engine used by Japanese tabletop RPG company FarEast Amusement Research (F.E.A.R.) for all of their games.

P.S. - Zak S of the forever awesome 'Playing D&D with Pornstars' and I are having a difference of opinion. Nothing hostile. I appreciate where Zak is coming from as I too came from there some 20 something years ago. It is a cool place to be. It rocks. Now I am
largely
here and here
.

P.S.S. And speaking of there, I mean here, I mean...screw it. Look at this. Apocalypse World will change the way so wake up in the morning, go to sleep at night and enjoy spending time with your significant other. And I am understating how *&#^ing cool it is.






Sunday, December 26, 2010

D&D But Not - Part 2


Hmm...re-reading my last post I realize its much more 'stream of consciousness' style than I had intended. I was really hoping to have my ideas better organized, though I admit thats been fairly difficult of late. The holiday season combined with various real-life pressures has me a bit overwhelmed. No matter. The road goes ever on or so I've heard...

Additional Notes on Character Creation in D&D-For-those-who-don't-like-D&D
My D&D games are designed on the idea that there are different tiers of play for different types of adventures and campaigns. The tiers are, from most like classic D&D to least, Common Folk, Gifted Folk, Special Folk and Super Folk. Part of the reason for this tier system is to create alternate atmospheres for running my game. I can run a bunch of peasants fighting a single giant ant like its a big deal or a medieval Justice League can try to stop the Arch-Lich Viscousitris from turning the sky into pain with the same system.

Common Folk are your everyday people. They are farmers, merchants, the barkeep's daughter, the blacksmith's son and your average OD&D character. These people get into adventures largely by accident or as the result of a poor understanding of the nature of the world. In my universe these are the bones you see on the ground when you enter a dungeon and wonder if anyone tried to obtain the Golden Wand of Gand Galaran before you. This is the Dark Ages equivalent of a Red Shirt. They begin the game with one Minor Talent if they are a PC and likely not even that if they are an NPC face in the crowd. Ability scores are rolled on 3D6, you take what you get. You can put them anywhere you want since it really won't matter. (turns away and bites knuckle, gripped in sorrow).

Gifted Folk have a knack, a strong will or just got lucky. It resulted in them not sucking as bad as the average person. Perhaps they a part of a prophecy they can't imagine revolves around them or they refuse to die until they get vengence for their father while making no specific deal with fate about getting maimed or badly beat up in the process. These characters begin with one Medium Talent. They roll 3D6, rerolling 1's for their ability scores.

Special Folk are something...well...special. Perhaps they amuse or fascinate the gods or are destined for greatness. A great and/or terrible event happened when they were born or they were by a hidden order of Knights. These guys and gals are something else. They begin with one Minor and one Major Talent. Ability scores are rolled with 4D6, drop the lowest. I am currently running a Tier 3 campaign revolving around a Ranger/Shaman who hunts monsters for their material components (although that's a simplification of what's going on in the story).

Super Folk are basically Superheroes. They are strange Knights and Wizards with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal peasants. Some are the last members of a lost Elf tribe, the children of Demi-Gods or just warriors so focused they have driven themselves to the peak of physical and mental ability. The get the full on Talent set of one Minor, one Medium and one Major. They roll there stats with 4D6, rerolling 1's. The majority of my campaigns have featured this tier.

One option my players have had a lot of fun with is trading in Talents for items or things like a mount or a companion.

One of the things that makes my D&D games different seems to be environment. I am a huge fan of interesting environments. One of the reasons I prefer running Sci-Fi over Fantasy is that the nature of the time period reflected in most medieval fantasy is one where travel is extremely difficult. Going anywhere takes a long time, is frought with peril and is often expensive in terms of supplies. This means that if you start your campaign in a region similar to Germany's Black Forest, well, I really hope you like trees. Your going to be seeing a lot of trees. For a while. If there is a dungeon near by you will likely go there often. Get used to it.


This bores me as a player and a GM. I want to see/imagine breathtaking vistas of majestic cities. I want to freeze in the ice and snow of the Alps and blister under the deadly heat of the summers of a desert region. Show me the mile wide bottomless pit of doom this week and the mile high peak of Mount Skyreach the next.

So, one of the things a player can do is trade in a Talent for an item such as a Mount, a Boat/Ship, a Flying Carpet or any number of crazy item that will enable them to explore the world. Like everything else in the game, I play it very fast and loose with few hard rules. Let's look at a boat for example...

A Minor boat is likely a Schooner roughly 100 tons. It has 3 crew NPCs members and one weapon (a ballista).

A Medium boat is the size of a Caravel, about 200 tons. It has a crew of 5 and two weapons.

A Major boat is a Light Galleon or Frigate, around 400 tons and possessing a crew of 7. Usually this comes with four ballista or three cannons.

Now, if the player wants the crew or craft special in some way (they are normally Tier 1 or 2 regardless of what the campaign PCs are 'set' at) it may reduce their number or the size of the ship. A Schooner with enchanted sails and a Sea Elf first mate will likely take up a Medium slot.

Also note that the number of crew members isn't enough to fully run the ships. This encourages the PC who owns the ship to hire the other PCs as crew or pay for hirelings to help sail it.

In a similar way other ideas can be obtained and adjusted such as a familiar (a Minor might be a mouse with a Major being a mouse that talks and reads maps) or even a magic item (a minor is a dagger that tells you the time while a Major might be a Sword wreathed in a swirl of constantly burning leaves).

See, we don't really care about the treasure finding part of D&D so its cooler to start the game with a customized magic item if you go for that kind of thing. If you find gold or magic items along the way while adventuring its awesome. Aces for you! But its not why we play or where the adventure is about so who cares what you own. Also it gives me backstory to work with. If you tell me you obtained the Shield of Breggor's Stand in a battle years ago I can have Breggor's spirit come to judge you worthy.

OK, other things...Oh!

Alignment - All the AD&D ones but they're more loosely interpreted to some extent. Usually my players don't choose an Alignment for their characters until the third or fourth session so they can see how their particular character is gonna act. Once a personality and philosophy develop we name it. "Man this guy is definitely Chaotic Good." "Ok, yeah. I'll put it down."

Saves - 3.0 style, with Fortitude, Reflex and Will. Bonuses are best on stats, class and level but its simplified similar to the 'to hit' system.

Dang what else can I squeeze in here? Monsters have Talents too, there are 12 classes (I think) and you can attempt nearly any skill-like action by rolling a D20 and adding a stat bonus in an attempt to hit a difficulty assigned by the GM.

Whew.

Any questions? More to come.

AD
Barking Alien

D&D But Not - Part 1


I'm going to skip the usual attempt at a humorous introduction and get write down to business. For an overview of what lead me to this path of madness feel free to read my old posts on my induction into the hobby and why my approach to D&D is...non-standard.

The basic things to consider when reading about my approach to Dungeons and Dragons are...

I was old school when it was new
I started playing in 1977 at the age of 8. I'm sure we ran games very much similar to how most old school games are being run right now for the first few years. When I was 11 I got to play with a friend and his friend whom I didn't know and who were a year or so old than me. They were back stabbing, power gaming, rules lawyers with a killer GM. After that one session I decided to go a different way...

Yes I've read Lieber, Howard and Tolkien. No, I don't think cool fantasy ideas stopped being written after 1975.
My D&D games are as much influenced by Japanese Anime as they are Irish Folklore. L. Frank Baum is cooler than Howard (who I don't particularly like actually). Video and Computer games are not a sign of the End of Days. Relax. Get over yourselves. Read a comic book. Michael Moorcock rocks but so does Marv Wolfman.

I'm not a fan of the system
I don't really like any game anymore if you use more than two types of dice (one preferred), need to look at charts to do stuff, fight one way and use skills another and have meaningless/arbitrary hit points. PCs in D&D act the same at 100 points as they do at 5. Dude, you just lost 95 points. Aren't you at least winded? I also don't like class and level systems but I'll get to that later.

OK, so when I sit down to run D&D I have to consider all of the above and than look long and hard at the game. How am I going to stay true to me and still run this bloody thing?

First, I start with my homebrew D&D variant system which is basically an unholy mish-mash of AD&D 1E, D&D 3E and lots of houserules. A lot has been simplified. A lot has been dumped. Weapon speeds, encumbrance, the way distance is measured - in the trash. I don't use miniatures so I don't need half the stuff they put in these things. If my combatants fly, teleport, turn invisible, run very fast, etc., minis just slow me down. Plus, to find a 'mini' of a Dragon from my campaign in scale to a 25mm figure would probably cost my $200 dollars or more. Frickin' miniature companies and their puny dragons...

I have tacked on something I call the Talent System. Talents are abilities that are sort of a cross between skills, feats, class abilities and low grade superpowers (not really but they can be). All PCs start with one Racial Talent, two Class Talents and three Personal Talents. Talents are rated Major (+5), Medium (+3) and Minor (+1). I adjudicate them pretty loosely. Each Race (Elf, Dwarf, Wilder...er...Halfling) has a particular Racial Talent they come with while Humans get to choose one of three. Each 'Sub-Race' has a different one (i.e. High Elf has a different one from Wood Elf, etc.).
Cross breeds are either so common they have their own (Half Elves on my world are numerous and have their own nation) or they take the Talents of each parent species at a decreased bonus (usually +3/+2).

Next I...

Made Classes Matter
I've altered the classes a bit and added some new ones so your class actually feels special. My Mages (Magic User, Wizards, whatever) don't function exactly like my Clerics. Clerics and Druids are similar though not identical. Sorcerers are totally different from anything I've seen in mainstream D&D though I'm less familiar with 4E and the Essentials info.

Most of these changes do make my classes and characters seem more powerful and over the top but its relative. The enemies can use the same class abilities and monsters have powers PCs don't have.

Made it Flexible
So while classes each have a more unique flavor, that aren't stuck to one ability at this level and another at that level. I have a list of Talents for each class and you can choose whichever one you want at whatever level. In one edition of my game, you noted what level you took a particular ability at so the Ranger who took Sworn Enemy (the +1 per level to a chosen type of opponent) at 3rd is going to be better at it than the Ranger who took it at 5th level when they both reach 11th. The first guy has been doing it longer.

Give Your Character a Story
It doesn't have to be deep and really shouldn't be a 10 page epic but a little background on your character will help in deciding your Personal Talents and why you do what you do. Unlike Race and Class talents, Personal Talents can be anything you dream up. You can even take another classes Class Talent but only as a Medium or Minor, never a Major. Other a Mage is going to cast Arcane Spells like a Mage. Your Dwarven Cleric wants to cast Arcane Spells because he's a cleric of the God of Secrets Under Mountains? OK, take it as a Minor Personal Talent.

The end results of this system create character far more like those I actually see in fantasy fiction, comics and animation. Gray Mouser could be a Rogue/Thief with the Curious or Shrewd Racial Talent and a Minor Personal Talent in Spellcasting or Sorcery. Ihrie of the anime Ruin Explorers is a Fighter with a Minor Transformation Personal Talent (though its in some ways a drawback which I may give the player bonus XP for playing up), a Medium Spellcasting Talent and a Major Talent in Ruin Knowledge (knowing stuff about various ruins and dungeons).

Basics
To hit - essentially like 3.0. Combat Class attack at Level +1. Non-Combat at Level -1. Everyone else at Level.

Armor class goes up. Dex improves armor class unless armor is heavy. Then Armor hinders Dex.
Heavy armor provides resistance to attacks/damage.

Initiative is highest Dex goes first. If two or more opponents have the same Dex roll a D6, go in order of who rolled highest going first.

Hit Points at first level at max for Class + Con bonus.

Spells are cast just like classic D&D. Fire and Forget. But I have a reason and weird things you can do with Spellcasting as a result. Remember Spellcasting is a rated Talent. You can screw with your spells making the magic seem magical and the Wizards of some actual use at low level.

What else...so much. OK, more to come...

AD
Barking Alien

Is it over?

Worst Xmas day in a long, long time.

Ended well but glad its over.

Please new year,

Don't stink.

AD
Barking Alien





Friday, December 24, 2010

Flying Pigs Over A Frozen Hell



It's happening.

Cats are chasing dogs. Boy bands are actually playing instruments. Republicans and Democrats are set to agree on something.

The end of the world is nigh!

What has brought this on? What has caused the world to be unmade? What has time and space going all akimbo and has enabled pigs to fly and hell to freeze over?!?

I am going to talk about...Dungeons & Dragons.

Are you there? Are you still with me? You might not be for long. I was saving this post for Christmas Day, a special occasion as it were, to announce a series of posts I intend to put up revealing some of the general ideas and a few specifics of my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D game.

Now I warn you in advance and I shall not be held liable if the material contained in these posts causes your eyes to bleed or your world to crumble. If you are firmly entrenched in the old school you may burst into flames or turn to stone (likely no save). It is also possible you could explode. In my campaigns a lot of stuff explodes.

Now that we have that out of the way, the truth of the matter is that I've wanted to post this for a while but haven't for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I didn't want to talk about D&D and seem hypocritical since its pretty well known that its not a game I favor. I mean, why else would I talk about it except to join in with the popular kids? Well, it's still true that it's not a favorite game of mine but D&D is the game I started with and I developed my current style because and/or inspite of it.

Another thing is its (my post thread) not going to be useful to the vast majority of D&D players out there since I do things very, very differently. Maybe it will inspire someone else to look at it differently. You guys in the OSR do that for me all the time.

Lastly, I'm actually very, very protective of my take on D&D. Its a game so different that I'm certain (paranoid) someone is going to steal it. Silly, I know, but stranger things have happened.

So the trick will be talking about it without really giving away too many details. I think I can do this. Deep breaths.

One of the things that prompted my finally putting these posts up is something the ever gracious Zak Smith said to me in the comments section of a recent post of his...

"Seriously, I get it.

I mean, you like cinematics and swashbuckling and the big-screen effect and narratives of awesomeness and all that. I think old school is about: You can get whatever want outta this game, but you gotta build it up starting off as a plotless disposable schumck with nothing but padded armor and a 10 foot pole and -earn- all that radness one dead gnoll at a time.

If you want to be badass kung fu master in the middle of an epic saga right outta the box, then you definitely do wanna play a different game. That's the smart move. I appreciate you coming around and reminding everybody that just because you roll a different way doesn't mean you're a dick."

That's it right there. I want to show that I'm not a dick but I am advocating a different approach to the ol' gal of D&D. I don't play the game as it was written in any edition and haven't for a while. Maybe I never did. I will tell you my reasons. I will than explain the game I play that I call Dungeons & Dragons even though its quite unlike the published games by that name and their respective retro-clones. Its also very, very similar and I will identify and explain the similarities. I will likely put up a sample character. I will than describe an adventure session we had. Maybe tomorrow's as I am currently running a new campaign of it to tweak it and iron out some kinks.

I hope you will take what I said in the beginning as my usual brand of teasing and kidding around. I want you all to come see what D&D is to me...or rather, what it could be.

Until then, Merry Xmas,

AD
Barking Alien


'Twas A Happy Holiday




`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble...

Wait. That's the wrong 'twas.


THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston

'Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,I
sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled!
his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses,
his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh,
to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night."



I do so love 'twases.
Happy Holidays to you one and all, whatever they, or you ,be.

AD
Barking Alien



 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

OSR Sci-Fi Game, Be Not Afraid of Greatness!





I was thinking about my last post and how it might be a good idea to make some key points clearer. I picked a heck of a time to attempt this however as I am not feeling my best today and between fighting a cold, the meds to do so and being extremely tired I hope this is even legible.

Most of the attempts to create an Old School, D&D influenced/inspired Science-Fiction game have been pretty cool endeavours. I am impressed by them. I am especially impressed because getting me to like what you've done in this type of venue is nothing short of miraculous.

To begin with, I don't like the D&D. Everyone who comes here knows this by now. I don't have much more than passing feelings of nostalgia that fade quickly when OD&D or Basic D&D is mentioned. Until I began following the blogs of Jeff Rient, James at Grognardia and a few others, I really didn't know my Holmes from my Moldvay. Still don't really. That is, I can't really tell you what's different about each one. I don't know that I ever knew that. I probably houseruled the differeces anyway.

Secondly, I really don't think a class and level system with no skills works all that well for Sci-Fi. Hell, if I don't think it works all that well for what it was designed for I sure as shootin' don't think it works for Sci-Fi.

Anyway, the point is your trying to 'sell me' on the idea that a fish, dressed as a cat, is really a dog. Its not. It can't be. You'd have to at least dress it like a dog first. But let me tell you, a couple of these fish did dress as dogs and a few 'got me'. As the big guy in black with asthma said, "Impressive. Most impressive."

In the end, it may well be impossible for the idea I've always wanted to see work, really, truly work. That may be why we never saw it in the old days. Unlike S&W, Labyrinth Lord, C&C and others based on that not-so-long-lost game of yore, X-Plorers and its ilk are based on a game that never was. Maybe can't be. Or maybe we get closer with each try. Let's keep trying.


To infinity...and beyond.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

OSR Sci-Fi Game, Where Art Thou?


I

 downloaded Stars without Number the other day in the desperate hope that a rules light, neo-classical old school Sci-Fi/Space Adventure RPG had finally been made. It has not.

Now don't get me wrong, its a fine product, excellent in fact, but still not what I was hoping for. Maybe I don't really know what I'm hoping for.

But I do. Ever since I was 13 or 14 I imagined that the fog in front of TSR's eyes would clear and they would learn that their approach to D&D would work for Sci-Fi. You would start with a basic boxed game and than proceed to an advanced version. The advanced game would have three rulebooks: A Player's Handbook, a Sci-Fi Master's Guide and an Alien Manual. Either there is something seriously wrong with me for thinking of this all too obvious idea or I'm some kind of freakin' gaming genius. I really don't think the latter is the case. Smart yes but a genius...?

For months and months now I've been secretly screwing with my D&D-for-those-people-who-don't-like-D&D system, mostly based on 1st Edition AD&D crossed with S&W crossed with mine own personal madness, to create a Sci-Fi version currently entitled Aliens & Astrobases. Its a bit (understatement warning) over the top but I think it would really fill a niche not currently covered. Its a bit like X-Plorers meets Anime. Sort of. Not exactly. Its fun.

Any interest or should I just move on to my next crazy idea?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Unfortunately, We Have to Have Rules

I'm fairly certain I could finish my personal gaming project, create the ultimate campaign and possibly even end world hunger if these efforts didn't require a set of rules.

Not that I advocate complete chaos (though incomplete chaos is vaguely appealing) but I have a lot of trouble creating rules and than writing them down.

See, I'm not a huge fan of rules. I acknowledge the need for them and a totally freeform game would get out of control too fast but generally I view the rules of most RPGs are a necessary evil. I feel that, 9 times out of 10, the rules slow the game down. And slow, for me, is bad. I'll slow down the atmosphere to create tension but I hate when the rules slow down our (the players and my) ability to do things.

Let's take initiative for example. Man I dislike the very concept of initiative. As if, in a fight between a bunch of your boys and those guys from down the street doesn't all occur at roughly the same time. Christian of Destination Unknown explains kind of how I feel. I usually just wing it based on the flow of the moment and common sense*. Problem is you can't write a game that way. Well, you could but it'd be a tough sell.

Unless a rule is fun in and of itself and/or invokes a feeling appropriate to the genre I'm playing in, all I want the rules to do is get out of my way so I can run my game. Its an attitude that has served me well for 33 years, yet doesn't translate well to a published game.

In the end, I may just use the rules that annoy me the least and assume that whoever plays my game is just going to chuck most of them anyway. Just like I would.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Punchlines

Over the years there have been a variety of times when you and your players have delivered lines of dialog that sent soda or the occasional dark lager flying from some one's nose like a blast from Old Faithful.

Often, we (my groups and I over the years) have tried to record these quotes for prosperity but inadvertently loose the notepad they were written in or misplace the sheet, etc. Here than are a few I can remember off the top of my head. They will of course be out of context so I will try to give a brief descriptor when appropriate.

GM: "And the Hellhound spews forth a gout of hellfire!"
Player: "Wow. Must be the puppy chow."
Me (GM) and my ex-wife (Player) in a session of my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D.

"It's like Tupperware with weapons."
Me, GMing Mekton, Trying to explain Mecha to someone unfamiliar with Anime.

"Commander, maybe we should..."
First officer PC to Commander PC in a Galaxy Quest RPG right before a bad call and all hell breaking loose.

"I'm going to put you through the Moon."
My PC (Superhero) to another PC (Supervillain) in a game of Champions.

"Damn my conscience. If I could sell it for cash I would."

"If it wasn't for guys like that I don't know what kind of monsters I'd run into while I was out killing other monsters."

"I'd laugh if I wasn't afraid it would kill me."

Mercenary Ranger/Shaman PC in my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D game.

"Phone for you. Its the afterlife."
PC to an NPC in our Ghostbusters/InSpectres hack.

"Would you like a cold compress? Because...well, I don't have a cold compress so...if you'd like one it may present a problem."
NPC to a PC in my D&D-for-those-who-don't-like-D&D game.

That's all I can remember in this burst of nostalgia. More comedy stylings and gaming goodness coming soon.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Comedy Tonight

This Friday night, Barkley and I have decided to have a guest blogger come in and discuss a matter of great interest to us. We met him at GenCon sometime ago and did not know he was a gamer and we're pleased he could join us. Ladies and Gentlemen, Fozzie Bear...

 



"Hello there game blog people! Wokka Wokka! It is indeed me Fozzie Bear and I can not tell you what an honor it is to be here. Wait...I think I just did. No? Well it is an honor.

I was looking at this...this...the blogging thing and I noticed on more than one occasion that comedy role playing games and even comedy moments in standard RPGs are not always well received by the general RPG community. I find this not only sad but downright silly.

That's right people, I said it. Its wrong and I am aghast. I was a ghoul but this got my dander up so I was able to amass more hit dice.

*Rimshot*

Ahhh and you thought I didn't really play.

But seriously folks, I find all the grim, scary, gorey, vampire angsty, conspiracy theory...y games as interesting as the next guy, assuming of course the next guy is dead.


*crickets*




It should not be forgotten that our hobby is playing games. We play games. Say it with me. Say it out loud, proud and strong. We roll dice, draw pictures of mazes, make weird voices and play with tiny figures of bearded men. If you can't laugh at that you have more issues than Crazy Harry."

Thanks Fozzie,

Personally I find certain comedic games to go deeper into what I love about RPGs than many of the serious ones. They are often faster playing, easier to understand and get into and hold very few limits on your creativity. Toon is a great game to get kids interested in gaming and a bunch of laughing teens aren't running over to turn on their X-box.

I once ran a Sesame Street RPG session at a day camp and I remember this one kid who I knew was destined to be an awesome GM. I asked each kid who they wanted to play and they said Big Bird or Cookie Monster or Oscar the Grouch...but this one kid said Super Grover.

Me: "Ah, good one. Grover is my favorite too."

Kid: "Not Grover. Super Grover. I want to be able to fly and have super powers."

Oh yeah.

Ghostbusters, which I ran not long ago using a hack of the original WEG game and InSpectres was one of my best games in a long time. As noted by comments here from some of my players, it got creepy and dark as much as funny. The PCs were developing into characters more three-dimensional than you see on many TV shows let alone RPGs.

Getting back to Toon, its amazing how many people have made comments on the OSR blogs about not be able to get into Toon. Toon was made in 1984 and while it may not be as old school as D&D or Traveller, it comes from a period of time when some of my favorite games were made. Perhaps the reason I'm 41 and not an OSR guy per se is be cause though I started in 77', my foundest memories are of Teenagers from Outer Space, Mekton, Star Wars D6, Star Trek, Paranoia and others of that era. Paranoia. Damn, that is a cool game. Reward your D&D players for doing what they will normally do anyway by playing a game where backstabbing each other for glory is encouraged!

Anyway, I could speak volumes on the merits of comedic games (and I will over the course of a few more posts). The bottom line is that comedy RPGs have a lot to offer and while that may not matter too much if you only play the same game again and again, if you're up for a change and a real challenge, give one a try.


I'll never forget playing at the house of some acquaintances who had a really big house. Two separate games with 5-7 players each could be run simultaneously. The dinning area and the living room were within earshot of each other but you could still do it no problem. A few weeks after running my second or third Star Wars session with a group there I was told that the owners of the house (the other group playing) assumed I was running a comedy game. The term was laced with a definite negative connotation. When I asked what gave them that idea I was told that some had commented, "Well, no PC has died yet. And they're always laughing."

A gaming table filled with laughter. How awful huh?

I leave you with...something for everyone






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P.S. My thanks and apologies to Henson and Frank Oz for the completely unapproved use of Fozzie Bear. I am and will always be a huge fan of the Muppets. I've seen the first Muppet Movie 50 times. That's more times than I've watched Wrath of Khan, Empire Strikes Back and the Princess Bride. Jim Henson is one of my all time heroes, but more on that another time...



Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Gravity Fails

At this point in my experience in the hobby, with 33 years of gaming under my belt, about 90-95% of it as a GM, you'd think it would be pretty hard for me to run a bad session. I know what makes a good Adam game after all, what most of my players likes and dislikes are and what genres I'm comfortable with*. All things considered, I should be able to roll a strike every time I hit the lane.** Running an awesome adventure would seem as inevitable as gravity.

Sometimes, gravity fails.

Why? How is this possible? Is he merely Human like anyone else?!

Um...duh. Yes.***

But let's look a bit deeper shall we? Let's look at the mistakes I make and in doing so, maybe learn a little something about ourselves. Or we could just point at me when I pass and laugh.

1) I'm too soft

Sometimes I misjudge my desire to challenge but not trample the PCs and I make things a bit too easy. I don't do it to my New Jersey group because we've gamed together so many years that I know they can handle the tough stuff and I know there are never any hard feelings for the loss of PC life or limb. With my New York group I think I sometimes go too light. At the same time, I sometimes feel that if I gave them the NJ treatment I'd be facing hurt feelings and a lot of dead characters. As time goes on and we game together more often we'll surely strike that balance that my old group(s) had.

2) If the players don't give me a lot to work with, it's harder to think of ideas

I tend to feed off the ideas of my players, especially when it comes to intergrating their characters into the story and world we're developing. If a player doesn't give me any ideas to work with, I sometimes have trouble getting excited about their character and/or his or her role in the game. This isn't always true but ideas from the players really supercharge my creativity.

Also, while I have a lot of ideas for stories, characters and adventures in Star Trek, Superheroes, Ghostbusters, Mekton and a whole host of other games, in some games and genres I'm less sure of which way to go (Dungeons & Dragons, the Wild West, Horror). If I'm running a sandbox game I usually have a world or universe for them to play around in and explore. If they don't give me any idea of why their exploring it, what their goals are or what they want to see, I can sometimes loose steam after a while. Its a flaw I'm working on but again, I'm so used to getting that from my previous groups that I am occasionally at a loss when a group doesn't play that way.

3) Because thinking matters, I may cause my players to overthink

Since I'll allow a well thought out plan to have the potential of succeeding even if it at first seems harebrained, a lot of my players overthink situations and try to do the smoothest, coolest thing possible instead of just beating stuff up. This happens most often in Sci-Fi, Modern and Superheroes games. Given the crazy technology of, say, Star Trek: The Next Generation onward, most players will apply the technology far more consistently and effectively than the writers on the show did. The same holds true for the abilities of Superheroes.

This results is what I sometimes call "Playing by Remote". Why beam down when you can send a probe rigged to do this thing from one episode and that thing from another episode while we sit safely on the bridge or in a shuttlecraft. This annoys me but it annoys me even more when the player is right and they should be able to do that. Now I always through in complications and limitations appropriate to the situation and genre but what it boils down to is I miss the Silver Age of the Captain Kirk or Spider-Man type hero who was smart but sometimes just punched evil in the face.

4) I can over-describe

I've gotten a lot better at this than I was back in High School and early College but I still do it sometimes. Because I 'see' and 'hear' the game world and the activities in it like a movie, TV show or animated series in my mind I can get caught up on a visual or audio description I'm trying to convey. To overcome time I practice describing the sequence and timing myself. If I can't get it out quickly and clearly its no good to me.

5) Not everybody gets where I'm coming from

And that's cool but it does make it tough sometimes. To be more specific, I tend to play with a variety of people, from a wide variety of background and a somewhat diverse age group. At the same time, you tend to get very similar interests and responses.

Most of the players and GMs I encounter in my own age group are old school D&D guys. Popular games in my NY group include Palladium, World of Darkness and D&D (including Pathfinder - Pathfinder is just D&D. You added pinstripes and reupholstered the seats but its D&D). Most group sizes are between 4 and 6 people.

My personal experience and preferences differ considerably. I don't like D&D. I really like Traveller and Ars Magica and Toon and Mutants & Masterminds. I prefer newer, indie games. Much love for Faery's Tale Deluxe, Monsters and Other Childish Things, InSpectres, Bliss Stage and Risus. My groups tend to be big, averaging 7-9 people but going as high as 12 (though sadly not that size in a least a year).

The end result is that sometimes I pitch a game or an idea and people look at me like I've bitten the head off a chicken. I've suggested games to groups only to hear them request the same old thing. Sometimes people hear about my games or ideas and think their not 'serious' because people don't seem to die often and the players are always laughing and cheering.

Hmm...actually that's a sign of success not a failing. Score one for gravity.


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*I love genres I'm uncomfortable with. Sure I love Superheroes and can run the heck out of it but sometimes I want to randomly pick a game and see what I can do with it. I'm up for a good Zombie Apocalypse (Never ran one), Wild West game (Haven't run one in over 25 years), a traditional, old school D&D game (Just for shits and giggles) or anything involving a random chart. Anyone try Instant Game? So fun.

**I was, at one time, an excellent bowler. I bowled a near perfect game once and had a terrific average for some time. The last time I bowled was nearly 10 years ago. I can only assume I suck now. Which brings me to...

***One might assume I have a rather high opinion of myself. Ah, if that were only the case. The truth is that this is only my online personna. I'm actually really tough on myself and generally suffer from bouts of low self-esteem regardless of what I accomplish. That said there are a few things I can honestly say I feel I am good at.

I am good with animals, especially dogs.
I am a good swimmer.
I am a pretty darn good cook.
I am good at...um...heh...y'know. Kissing and Stuff. ^ ^;
I run really good RPG games.





Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's Makes It Yours?

I was thinking (for reasons no deeper than it popped into my head and I decided to pursue it) about what makes one GM's 'style' or approach different from another. When you've played in a game I've run, for example, how do you know you were in a Barking AlienTM session/campaign? Well, other than the fact that I was there and you could see me and...I digress. What makes my games 'special'? Top five answers are on the board. Survey says...

1) I'm out to challenge you, not 'get' you
If you aren't threatened with character death, bodily harm or the loss of your PC's possessions the game won't seem fulfilling and you won't feel like you triumphed when you win. Often there isn't a feeling of accomplishment if there isn't a threat of failure. At the same time, I run character and story driven games often based on subjects (Superheroes, Star Trek, Fairy Tales) where main character death is rare. Over time I've balanced this by always remembering that the PCs are the stars of the show but on occasion even big stars can't renegotiate their contracts.

2) If you (the player) bothered to mention it, I'll bother to include it
If a player tells me he really likes games with traps, I will put traps in the game here and there. If a player says his character is a member of a mysterious tribe from the Southern Jungles, most NPCs won't recognize his nationality or at best, may be be unfamiliar with it. If the group doesn't really get into political intrigue, I don't focus my campaign on nobles houses and trade alliances. This simple self-inflicted ruling is probably the single thing that makes me a popular GM in my circles. Players like to have a voice and are happy when the GM listens.

3) The answer is never no but it isn't always yes
If the players come up with a crazy, power stunt, barely rational plan to do something, I will never say they can't try it. I will also never say it is guaranteed to work. I will assign a difficulty and various modifiers based on the plausibilty defined by the genre and setting, how well thought out the plan is, how cool it sounds (based on how it would look on screen/in a comic book/animated by Gainax or GONZO, etc.), whether the situation has developed to the point where its going to be pretty hard to succeed regardless and numerous other factors. Then I make them roll. Often, depending on the idea, the scenario and the system, even if they fail or succeed, side effects may land in their favor or turn against them.

4) Something will explode
Usually something large. It is likely to self-destruct or overload and the outcome is usually avoidable but realized too late. Just this past year a Seperatist Cruiser, an ancient temple caught between cursed undead and local elemental forces and all of time and space blew the hell up in one game or another. Every campaign features, at minimum, one near-world shattering kaboom.

5) If I can't make you scream I'll make you laugh

I like my games to be memorable. If for some reason I'm having an off day and the 'Wow!' and 'Holy Crap!' factors are lower than normal, I'm not above switching gears and making this session a comedy episode. Most of my Star Trek sessions might be Journey to Babel or City on the Edge of Forever but every once in a while we need a Trouble with Tribbles to break the tension.

Do I manage to do all of these things in every session of every game I run? Maybe...I try to. These are the five key elements that are always on my mind when GMing. These things define my game style. To me the pursuit of the perfect game is one in which, a few weeks after a session, one of my players says,

"Damn that battle with the Brainiac/War World Merged Entity was tough. I was sure we were gonna buy it when the thing took out Guy Gardner and Captain Marvel and than injured three of the PCs with one blast. It was so cool that Captain Atom showed up to assist by draining the Entity's energy reserves. Leonard and I were just saying how much we both like Captain Atom. Oh, than we used this combination of Air Wave's ability to scramble computer systems and Warborn's physical attacks on the Brainiac CPU to disable him. Warborn? Oh that's Jack's character. In the end War World-iac blew up, destroying all his drone robots but sending Capt. Atom who-knows-where! Damn, the look on the Atom's face, I can just imagine it. Nearly laughed soda through my nose."*

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*That all sorta happened. Sort of. Actually the above passage is how it should've gone but it didn't. Why? Well, because sometimes I don't hit all five key elements. More on that next time...