Thursday, May 23, 2019

#AprilTTRPGmaker Day 10 How Are Your Games Dismantling Colonialism?

How are your games dismantling colonialism?

I'm not doing it deliberately, I can tell you that much. "Colonialism" wasn't a thought in my mind when I designed my game.

Broadly speaking, colonialism is the notion that you can claim land or resources even though people are already living there by claiming that those people aren't really people. Oz is something of an interesting case in this regard. While all of Oz is ruled by Ozma, there are all sorts of small corners that either don't know or care about her. So a good chunk of the stories involve Ozma (or more often her friend Dorothy) going to a place and declaring "This is mine!" to people who have never heard of her, which sounds classically colonialist. But it often turns out that the people who live in these places are unique enough or powerful enough that they can resist her, at least on their home turf. Which means that these encounters are more about reaching an understanding than one side asserting dominance over another.

The Oz Point mechanic in Adventures in Oz actually encourages this sort of storytelling by encouraging players to befriend the strange creatures that they meet. There are combat rules and means of asserting dominance, but the real reward system of the game is Oz Points and friendship.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#AprilTTRPGmaker Day 9 How Do Your Games Distribute Power Among Your Players?

How do your games distribute power among your players?

The primary source of power in Adventures in Oz is friendship. As characters explore Oz and make friends, they become increasingly powerful.

It can be a problem when every character goes on every adventure and makes every friend available to them. Not only will they be the exact same power level (which is not bad), they will be very much the same character because they followed the same advancement path (which is bad). In order to make sure that "spotlight moments" are distributed evenly, you have to ensure that players are not competing for the same spotlight. If the answer to a challenge is a cookie and everyone has Cayke the Cookie Cook on their Friends List, the only real question is who speaks up first.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem, which I should make a point of including should I do a revised edition of the game.

1) Keep at least some friendship opportunities simple/individual. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodman is the only one who acts to save the Queen of the Field Mice from the bobcat. so he's the only one who can call on her aid. Throughout the stories, it is usually a single character helping another, though which member of the party helps in which case is what makes it an ensemble story.

2) Encourage troupe style play. This is another nod to the structure of the original stories. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and Toto never adventure together again in that specific arrangement again. The closest it comes to happening again is in Ozma of Oz, with only Toto missing from the ensemble, but also includes a significant cast of new characters, such as Tik-Tok and Billina. So even if everyone playing in one adventure gets to add Cayke the Cookie Cook to their Friends Lists, the next session may include only one or two of those characters, keeping variety high.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

#AprilTTRPGMaker Day 8 Favorite Collaborator

Favorite Collaborator

My favorite collaborator would have to be Kris Newton. I daresay that the sample adventure that he wrote for Adventures in Oz was better than anything that I could have come up with myself. While other issues have kept me from being as productive as I would like, at least part of why no further adventures have come out for AiO is that Kris is a very tough act to follow.

Our more recent collaboration, my appearance on the Gameable Saturday Morning Podcast discussing the animated Star Trek series (and Star Trek in general), was also a blast. It was also great to catch up with him, as we had gone from switching off GMing duties for a single playgroup to living in different states.

#AprilTTRPGMaker Day 7 How To Increase Accessibillity?

(I realize that April is almost up and I'm nowhere near done with this list. But the prompts are useful and I need something to get me back into the habit and practice of blogging, and hopefully even writing and designing again.)

How to increase accessibility?

The first of the "social justice" questions on the list. While I have been labelled a "social justice warrior" by some, I'm going to go ahead and say that I don't have a good answer for this one. While I have done my best to make sure that my work was accessible in a conventional sense, with clear text and wide availability, I have made no steps to ensure that it would be accessible to people with disabilities.

While not deliberate, that clear text may be an advantage for a blind person using an app to read the text aloud. Though the silly Oz names might cause some stumbling. That just makes me wonder if there were some way to encode pronunciation into the document to make that go more easily.

But I am glad that other people are working to make the world more accessible. Virtual tabletops like Roll20 not only let us play with people from all over, they let people with mobility issues who can't get to the game store or the GM's house play. More primitive online play formats like chat RPs and play-by-post mean that Deaf or hard of hearing people can game. And there's even an app intended to help people with hearing loss follow ordinary conversations which could be readily used to help that person participate at a gaming table.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

#AprilTTRPGMaker Day 6 Long or Short RPG Texts?

Long or short RPG texts?

There's a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln where he claims that a man's legs should be "long enough to reach the ground." And that's what I expect from my RPG books. The specific length or measurement doesn't mean much to me. Whether or not it "reaches the ground" (is a complete and useful text) is the key measure.

On the short side, I am an appreciator of Fate Accelerated. While a number of companies have offered "quickstart" or "lite" versions of their games to appeal to newbies, they typically feel stripped down and incomplete. Fate Accelerated is a lighter expression of the Fate mechanics, but it feels like a complete game. I actually bought several copies at the last DunDraCon specifically to give to friends because it felt like giving someone a complete gamerather than a teaser product or orphan supplement.

For longer works, I think my favorite would be The Burning Wheel. The books are not only thick, but very dense with text and ideas. Every word is there for a purpose.

On works that aren't quite long enough, regardless of actual length, I've already mentioned quickstarts. They might be useful as a player reference, but not much more than that. The longest book I can think of that still didn't do justice to its material would have to be Oz: Dark and Terrible. It left out mechanics for magic in a magical setting and lacked a solid GM chapter with advice on putting all of the pieces together.

Speaking for my own works, Adventures in Oz is the longest thing I've ever written. I find mechanics very engaging, with other details being less important. So writing up the land of Oz setting material was the hardest work, but I knew that the game would not be complete without it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

#AprilTTRPGmaker Day 5 Character or World-Building?

Character or World-Building?

As a nearly permanent GM, I’m more of a world-builder than a character-builder. But even then, I largely focus on the scenario that the party finds itself in than the structure of the world itself. I’ve actually sneered at excessive world-building as a distraction from scenario-building. Making sure you have an adventure ready for your Friday session has always seemed more important to me than reams of family trees and details that may never make it to the table.

Though I am realizing that without those sorts of details, I may be limiting myself. Without an understanding of how the royal family works and who they’ve annoyed over the last century, I’ve just decided that that is a story that I cannot tell at my table. It also means that my players can run roughshod over the setting by asking fairly easy questions that I hadn’t considered and acting on the poorly-thought-out answers.

#AprilTTRPGMaker Day 4 Favorite Type of Game Scenario

Favorite Type of Game Scenario

As a long time GM, I've written a lot of scenarios, and run more than that. And the main thing I've discovered was something said by Princess Leia in Star Wars: "The more you tighten your grip ... the more ... will slip through your fingers." The scenarios that bomb are the more tightly structured ones. The adventures that present the tabletop equivalent of pixel-bitching. The strongest scenarios that I've run have been the loosest. My longest running campaign didn't even have a plot to speak of, being solely focused on the exploration of a megadungeon (though I do wish that I had fleshed out the world beyond the dungeon).

It all comes down to character agency. Give players the opportunity to take action and make choices and they will make the story their own. Make them spend more time fighting the adventure than the bad guys and you have a recipe for frustration.
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