Sunday, May 25, 2014

Shaking some things loose

If you haven't noticed yet, you don't have to be on Google+ to comment on this blog anymore. It will still be posted over on my Google+ feed, but it will also allow people who do not worship the glow cloud that is Google to chime in with their supportive comments.

I seem to have overslept L. Frank Baum's birthday, which was last Thursday. He would have been 158. Jared Davis over at the Royal Blog of Oz, did his annual tribute with a performance of one of the Little Wizard Stories, The Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger. It also marked the 4th anniversary of my initial release of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road over at

My regular gaming group sort of fell apart about 2 months ago. I had two players back out, but since they were transportation for a third player, that meant 3 lost players out of 5. So the two that are remaining are typically not brave enough to keep plundering the deeper dungeons under the Castle of the Mad Archmage at their current strength. And one is only an intermittent player, so that party strength waxes and wanes pretty strongly. I've tried recruiting new players, with limited success. The bad news is that I have not run a session since those players left, but the good news is that I still have something of a game night. Mostly Munchkin and Zombie Dice, with a few other games that we convince each other to try out. I've been threatened with Risk a few times, though that has yet to happen.

Even if the whole thing fully implodes and I never run an session of this campaign again, it will still be the longest campaign I've ever run. It started back in May, 2011. Most campaigns I've run prior to this tended to last 3-4 months. We play through a story arc, a single large-ish villainous plot, then pick up another game, and run another campaign with another story arc, rinse and repeat. I've tried to push past that barrier a couple of times, but it has never worked for me. It's easier to kill the campaign in its prime than watch it wither away.

So what will I do now?

1) Try to keep the campaign going? I could. I could find more players, try to get things started up again. and just keep going. But on the other hand, my impressive shelf of games is not getting the try-outs that it did under my previous habits.

Another problem is that I'm realizing a couple of things that I should have done early on in the campaign, like build out the world beyond the dungeon or restock the dungeon behind them. In the early days of the campaign, I wasn't sure how long it would go on. By the time it became an established thing, other pieces of my life were becoming less established and it became harder to find the energy to do that sort of thing (and a lot of other things, like blog regularly).

2) Run something else? This is something that's been gnawing at me for a while. I've been thinking of a sci-fi game, maybe Star Trek or Diaspora, since the last 3 years have been heavy on fantasy for me. I've also been thinking of Monsterhearts, since one of the things I want to get better at as a GM is "going small," establishing character and setting by getting into those quiet moments when they're not having big awesome adventures. And since Monsterhearts is about being very small and petty, it seems like a good training ground. Or the Dresden Files RPG, since I've been a fan of those books for some time and I've been meaning to give Fate a test drive.

But at the same time, the experience of running a long term game has given me some insight into what is needed to make a long term game successful. Which means a lot more thought and effort than I've put into anything I've done prior. Even the current campaign. And with the life-stupid keeping me down, I'm not sure when I'll be able to get out of that rut.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Questions Answered, Questions Asked

Looking over my last post, I can't help but wonder: Did I just discover a design flaw?

On the one hand, it does all hold to the same logic. Bigger things are easier to hit but harder to damage, and smaller things are harder to hit but easier to damage. But on the other hand, in order to apply that logic consistently, it makes the game rules inconsistent. Certain actions take size modifiers, but other, related actions do not.

I could ignore it. AiO has been on the market for 4 years now and it's only now that this has even come up. I've gotten stronger criticism regarding the magic system (which actually did have a flaw, which I have made the effort to fix). Perhaps all of the people running the game out there haven't done many adventures dealing with creatures and characters with vastly different Sizes. Or perhaps they ignored the rules, or at least their implications. It's a light, loose system, anyway. Ignoring one rule isn't going to break the whole thing.

But if I thought like that, I'd be no better than '90's era White Wolf.

Since 2 maneuvers are impacted and they each work differently, this is going to take 2 fixes.

The change I'm thinking of to fix Painful Strikes is a change I really don't want to make. I really wanted flat, non-twink-able damage values to break combat-focused players out of their comfort zone. Also, as a long-time Game Master, I've lived in fear of having my big bad boss monsters go down in a round or two thanks to lucky damage rolls and critical hits.

But I must be brave, because I must separate attack and damage to allow both of them to have separate influences from Size.

So when a larger character attacks a smaller character, they do Wits damage equal to the Size difference between the two characters (minimum 1). So Jim the Cab-horse (Size 4) would do 2 points of damage if he was kicking a wolf (Size 2), but only 1 point of damage if he was facing off against a Nome (Size 3) or if the Hungry Tiger (Size 4) got a little too hungry.

Optionally, an attack that did more Wits damage than the character had remaining Wits would convert the excess damage into bonuses on a Hit Location roll to see which limb got crushed in the assault. This would, naturally apply only to instances where the attack would do multiple points of Wits damage

Though when a smaller character attacks a larger character, there's a possibility that damage may not happen at all. If your foe is more than one Size larger than you (maybe 2. I haven't quite decided), you will only do your 1 point of Wits damage on a special success. Though since you will be getting a Size bonus to hit, that will increase your chance of special success. Just not as much as your basic chance of success.

In the case of Knockdown attacks, my thought is to have them resisted by Size rather than Athletics. No Size modifier to hit, but your challenge is not hitting, but moving him. I'm half tempted to find some way for Athletics to be a factor (so an Athletics 1, Size 5 giant is more of a pushover than an Athletics 5, Size 5 giant), but I'm not sure how to do it without adding more complicated math. And before you mention it, I don't see a problem with having giants roll against a 5 to Knockdown other giants. It's called the Cube-Square Law.

What do you think? Do you think these fixes would work? Are the problems worth fixing? Have you already fixed them yourself? Do you use any other house rules when playing AiO? Heck, is there something you've wanted to see in AiO that didn't make the cut?

With the combat fixes, as well as the Transmutation hack, I'm half wondering if an AiO Revised should be in the works. I don't think that enough changes really need to be made to make it a Second Edition. Just a Revised.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Size of the Dog in the Fight

Hello everyone. Yes, I'm still here and posting from time to time. And this time, I'm actually going to talk about Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

I recently had a conversation over Facebook with a fan of the game who wanted a little clarification on some things. It led to an interesting discussion and I'm going to share some of these clarifications with you all.

The big question that led to the most discussion was "Exactly what is the impact of Size on combat?"

It seems simple, right? Bigger things are easier to hit, so relative Size should add a bonus to hit the bigger thing, or a penalty to hit the smaller thing. I say something exactly like that in the book itself (the example on page 25 of the print version).

But then this fan pointed out that, due to the way the system handles damage, attack and damage are functionally tied together. So when you roll to make a Painful Strike, the roll not only determines whether or not you hit, but if your hit was hard enough to inflict the point of Wits damage. And while it may be easier to hit something that's bigger than you, the Size difference also means that you're going to have a harder time making that impact meaningful.

So Painful Strikes and Knockdowns do not receive modifiers based on the Size difference, but Grapples and Injuring Strikes do receive Size modifiers.

But why?

Because both maneuvers separate the linkage between attack and damage. When you attack with an Injuring Strike, you then make another roll on the Injury Table on page 30, much like making a damage roll in other RPGs. Since the damage roll is separate from the attack roll, and the damage roll receives Size modifiers, it makes sense that Injuring Strike attack rolls receive Size modifiers the other way around. Big things are easier to hit, but harder to damage, while smaller things are harder to hit and easier to damage.

The way grapples work, I think it's also fair to allow Size modifiers to apply to them. The roll to grapple is primarily a "to hit" roll. The primary effect of a grapple is Size-based. The grapple follow-up actions (Pin and Throw) are the "damage" effects.

To make things a little clearer, let's throw in some examples. Let's say that Toto (a very cute Size 1 dog) has discovered a Nome scout (Size 3) sizing up Oz for invasion. The Size difference between the two combatants is 2 (3-1).

Toto attempts a Painful Strike, chomping at the Nome's heel. The Nome is bigger than Toto, but Toto's small jaws mean that he'll have a hard time biting hard enough to make the Nome yelp. The two factors cancel out and there is no Size modifier to Toto's attack roll.

The Nome sees that he's been spotted and whips out his diamond-edged sword to chop poor Toto in half with an Injuring Strike! The Nome's attack roll is at -2 because of the relative Size difference, but if he were to hit, he would get +4 on his roll on the Injury Table.

Toto then tries a Knockdown maneuver, running around and between the Nome's legs to try and trip him. Reaching the Nome's legs is not a problem, but upsetting his balance is fairly tricky. No Size modifier.

Worrying that all of this scuffling is going to draw unwanted attention, the Nome then attempts to pick up Toto and run away with him. This is resolved as a grapple. The Nome suffers a -2 penalty to the attack roll due to Size difference. Once successful, the Nome inflicts a -3 penalty (equal to his Size) to all of Toto's Athletics rolls.

Do you have any questions about the setting or the system used in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Countering the Scry and Fry

While a goodly portion of my gaming life has not necessarily involved dungeons or dragons, I still try to keep up with things in that corner of the hobby. That's where I found this.

For those who don't like following links, the article describes a tactic known as "Scry and fry," in which the players use divination magic to locate the dungeon's "boss" and then cast another spell to teleport the party directly to the "boss battle" without going through the rest of the dungeon.

My initial response was to defend the tactic because 1) it is a valid use of those spells and 2) as I said in my comment on that page, a lot of the negative reaction I saw was DM's trying to require that the players go through their dungeon before getting to the boss battle and it really felt like a parent encouraging their children to eat their lima beans before they get dessert. Though on further reflection, I do understand the idea of players using it as a "cheat code" rather than simply a "fast forward".

While the owner of that blog has suggested that creating dungeons that aren't "lima beans" has gone on his list of future articles, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the subject as well.

First of all, the "scry and fry" tactic makes a number of assumptions that are fairly easy to upset. I think a case could be made that if "scry and fry" actually defeats your dungeon, you are a very lazy dungeon creator.

1) There is a "boss": While antagonism and conflict are important to any story, making your antagonist a single, powerful individual is just one possibility. It could be a group, or even an entire organization. The party could find itself in conflict with the forces of nature. They could fight a prophecy, trying to prevent an event from happening whether or not anybody involved dies.

2) The boss' identity and/or location are known or knowable: Okay, so let's assume that we've decided to make a boss for this story. If we want this boss to be less vulnerable to scrying or other methods of detection, he's got to be a mystery. Maybe the story is a murder mystery and the party can't act against the villain until they know he did it. Maybe the villain has a secret identity like a superhero and the party's magic can't track him when he's being normal. Or maybe he knows enough about magic to have some degree of protection against divinations (this was the primary solution I saw among the DM's who commented on this on Facebook).

In the case of a mystery story, I have little problem with using scry and fry or any other tactic to confront the villain. Since discovering the identity of the villain is the objective of the adventure, the confrontation scene is more resolution than climax in my mind.

3) The destruction of the boss will solve the problem or threat posed by the boss: There are certainly times where this is the case. But not always. Because most of the ways that villains gain power involve building an organization. An evil cult, a thieves guild, what have you. Ultimately, the boss is the capstone of the pyramid, not its base. So if all you do is kill the boss, you have not defeated the organization at all. The infighting among the organization's leadership to determine who sits directly in front of the firehose of money, magical power or whatever that the initial boss created can do damage to the organization as a whole, but everyone involved has a vested interest in making sure that the firehose keeps flowing at firehose pressures as long as possible and only once that fails to happen will the organization fully collapse.

3a) It is actually possible to destroy the boss through main force: This one is just a subheading because it's more of an edge consideration, and can be system-dependent. It could be that the boss is a supernatural creature who can only be defeated by using the Artifact of XYZ or by those who have gone through the Trials of AEIOU, which are somewhere in the dungeon but will be missed by those who teleport past them. Or maybe the boss just has a few more levels than the party and will overpower them since they didn't go through the dungeon and rack up the amount of XP that the DM expected them to.

Advice to DMs: Even after you start tweaking your storylines to counter scry and fry or any other Stupid Player Trick, your players may still try them. Do not go out of your way to thwart your players or kill their characters. Just confront them with the logical repercussions of their actions. Be warned that this can include unintended character deaths.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Your Dream GM/DM Game!

Here’s a wacky game to play. If you could pick any person from all of history to run an RPG for you, who would it be? And what game would you play?
It’s totally okay to fanboy on this. You can have Gary Gygax or Ed Greenwood run your D&D game. You can have Stan Lee run your superhero game (Would it be one of the Marvel licensed RPGs or maybe something like Villains and Vigilantes or Champions?). You can have Stephen Moffat run your Doctor Who game.

But don’t be afraid to get creative. While it may be tempting to want H.P. Lovecraft to run Call of Chthulhu, it might be interesting to think about what he could do to a Deadlands game. Why not have an epic Exalted campaign run by the epic master himself, Ancient Greek poet Homer? How about a Paranoia campaign with Ellen “GLaDOS” McLain as the Computer?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

DDC 2014 Reviews

Fate Core: Despite all the hullaballoo surrounding the Kickstarter for this project, this was my first real opportunity to pick up this material. (I know the PDFs are PWYW, but I'm a lover of physical products whenever possible.) Fate Core is a clear step above previous Fate games I own; It's refined and flexible and robust. I haven't been able to give the System Toolkit a full grok, but it looks pretty powerful on the surface.

And that slim little volume on the top of the stack is Fate Accelerated Edition, which should not be judged on the basis of its size. It is not a stripped down version of Fate, a playable teaser to get you to buy the big book. It is a neat little game in its own right that can support campaigns as easily as one-shots.

Isle of the Unknown: This one was my wife's pick. Intended for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess retro-clone, it's pitched as a setting, but doesn't have a lot of things that would make it a setting. There are those who regard this as a feature, but I don't see it. It's pretty much just a big list of weird things. It might have been more effectively packaged as "exotic & weird random encounter table/s".

Torchbearer: Another fantasy game from the Burning Wheel gang, this one feels like a mid-point between the crunch-heavy, Tolkein-flavor-filled Burning Wheel and the really very light and approachable Mouse Guard RPG. It incorporates classes and levels very loosely, but neither really seeps into gameplay.

GURPS Fantasy II: One of Robin Law's first published works. This has been on my list of GURPS books that I really want, but didn't have for a very long time. It doesn't have many of the traditional fantasy touchstones that the main GURPS Fantasy setting (Yrth) has. It doesn't really have any of them, actually.

In the Mad Lands, magic is chaotic and distrusted. The worship of gods is suspect, because the only gods in the setting are more or less Chthonic Elder Gods (who just happen to be inspired by Winnie the Pooh and his friends). And the monsters are not random magical mutations of known animals, but people who have fallen to terrible fates. The primary focus of a Madlands campaign is survival in a world that is out to kill you.

GURPS Ice Age: Another GURPS classic. A sourcebook for playing in the eras that Creationists insist never happened. Or maybe it's the era that Creationists insist happened, with all of the early species co-existing all at once. There are even stats for a few dinosaurs, so you can run it that way if you want.

Rifts: Picked up a couple of Rifters this year. I find them rather interesting because of how much material is contributed by fans. The Rifts Sourcebook and Conversion Books were from early in the line, so they give me a good view of what early Rifts was like, before things got totally gonzo.

Ninjas & Superspies: It's a mess, but it's a clearly an enthusiastic mess. Mystic martial arts, spy gadgets & vehicles all in one crazy book.

Not pictured

Mutant City Blues: Now for what Robin Laws has been up to lately. One of the hottest things in recent years is the GUMSHOE System, which is intended for use in mystery/investigation RPGs. The primary conceit of the system is that information gathering does not require dice rolls while still letting other things get dicey. While the second edition of the first GUMSHOE game, The Esoterrorists, was on a couple of shelves, the one that grabbed my interested was Mutant City Blues. The game is intended to emulate cop drama shoes in a world where super powers exist.

The key to making this premise workable is the Quade Diagram, which lays out all of the superpowers available in the setting in relation to each other. So if you've got a crime committed by the use of one power, you don't need to know zoology to know what animal powers your suspect has or high end physics to figure out the limits of someone with energy blasts or whatever.

Even the cops get superpowers. The whole "costumed vigilante" thing got discredited fairly quickly early in the super era of the setting, with several notable incidents involving un-expert civilians being allowed into crime scenes and hot situations and flubbing them totally and tragically. So super heroes have been relegated back to the comics, though some comics companies will license the likeness and abilities of "real" superheroes, who mostly do PSAs and mall openings. If you have powers and want to fight crime, you become a cop.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

DunDraPost 2014

Ah, my annual adventure. While it would be nice to go to some of the other conventions out there, whether some of the other gaming cons that people go to (smaller ones like KublaCon or CelestiCon, or even the big grandaddy of them all, GenCon) or finally get to meet some of the very cool Oz people I've interacted with online at WinkieCon, it would take quite a lot of doing to make me give up DunDraCon.

(Sorry about the lack of photos this year.  We brought the camera, but forgot to dig it out for most of the trip.)

As has been our habit of recent years, we talked our friend Mike into coming along. This year, however, he found a girlfriend who wanted to come along. He's had girlfriends before, but this was the first who wanted to spend a gaming con with him. It was a little crowded in the car, with four people and their luggage, but we got along rather well and it was an overall pleasant trip.

After our typical sleepover at Mike's mom's house (which included a playthrough of the Discworld board game, which was quite fun), we headed to the hotel on Friday morning. Although Friday was Valentine's Day, there was little romance going on that night for my wife and me. She wound up falling ill rather suddenly. Even with the most potent cold remedies available at the local Target, she was still miserable and had difficulty breathing.

It wasn't until Saturday that we realized that it was probably allergies rather than some kind of flu bug. We had all of the feathers in our hotel room removed (feather pillows, down comforter) and started treating her with antihistamines and Sunday and Monday were dramatic improvements in her condition and mood. Unfortunately, the game she really wanted to play was on Saturday morning, so she wound up not playing in a game (though she was able to run her scheduled game on Monday morning).

One of the big draws of the convention is the ability to shop for games. There are at least 3 Bay Area games stores offering all of the new hotness, on top of smaller publishers and dealers vying for your business in the Dealer's Room. The only problem is that the Dealer's Room doesn't open until Saturday. This year, they ameliorated this somewhat by offering a Buyer's Bazaar on Friday. The Buyer's Bazaar lets individual gamers sell off the games they don't play anymore. So I got to do some game shopping on Friday and filled out more of my Palladium collection (Due to ethical concerns regarding the company, I only buy Palladium products used.)

Friday was also the day I attended a GMing seminar. Even though I've been a Game Master for many years, I always like learning someone else's perspective. Sometimes they have tricks you haven't heard of or faced problems that you've never had to deal with.

Saturday was the day I got to play a game. And why I signed up to play this game is something of an interesting story. 2 years ago at DunDraCon, I had signed up to play a GURPS game. The scenario was set during WWI and the player characters were pulp hero-style supernatural investigators. I think we were supposed to be investigating a time rift that let dinosaurs come through and eat people, but we ran out of time just as we discovered the vortex. But one of the players in that game made an off-hand Wizard of Oz reference and I happened to have a promotional copy of Adventures in Oz handy, so I handed it to him.

He invited me to play in a game he was running at the con, which actually seemed up my alley (a Chthulhu/ Star Trek mashup), but my schedule did not allow.  (He may have already run his scenario that year and I missed it.) Last year, both of our games overlapped each other, so I couldn't play in his game. I did manage to stop by and autograph the copy of AiO I had given him the previous year. This year, however, my schedule finally allowed me to play, so I made a point of it.

It wound up being a lot of fun. I only caught a few of the Chthulhu Mythos references (Chthulhu didn't actually show up in this one. It was all about Yog-Sothoth this time around), but the Star Trek was flowing fast and furious. He ran the game very loosely, letting players come up with ideas and rolling with them. Including the player who decided to write Making Coffee as a skill on their character sheet. That player actually wound up using that skill in the game.

There were also props aplenty. My character was the science officer of the ship, so I got a toy tricorder to play with (It made all the noises!). There were also lots of ship models, some official, some not. He's a very crafty sort, so there were a number of home-made ships as well. One of his regular jokes after he pulled out a new prop was that he should never be allowed to be bored within easy reach of a hot glue gun.

Sunday was the day I ran my game in the Teen Room. As advertised, it was the Castle of the Mad Archmage using the Adventures Dark & Deep rules. Although I've been running an old-school campaign for quite some time, this was my first experience with these specific rules. Character creation was a little more complicated than what I had done before, mostly because of the expanded options. Most of my players (2 out of 3) opted to play humans rather than wrangle with the number of races and subraces available as well as dodging the potential race/class restrictions.

Once characters were completed, play went very smoothly. Since most of the upper works of the castle were uninhabited, it was mostly exploration without a lot of mechanics. Both of my players at the time (a third joined a little later) particularly enjoyed the Charlotte's Web reference in one of the stables. One of the characters very nearly died once they entered the dungeons proper, victim to a centipede's poisonous bite. (Technically, the character did die, failing a save versus a "save or die" poison. Given the circumstances, I decided to let the character live so play could continue.)

Progress was overall slow in the exploration of the dungeons. Even though I was there for 8 hours, there were only 2 combats, the second occurring as the next group was coming in to use the room, so I began running it auctioneer style. At least part of this was the distract-able nature of teenagers, as well as my willingness to discuss the ins and outs of Doctor Who (like my ability to name every single actor to play the Doctor, my favorite companion, and comparisons of the different theme compositions).

For some reason, the last few years my wife has had her game scheduled for Monday. It's actually kind of irritating, because that means moving out of the hotel room (we always take home more stuff than we bring) and taking care of all the last minute get-in-the-car-and-go details becomes my job. Late departures are also rough on Mike, because all the twisting and turning through the redwoods that is so lovely on the way down becomes far less fun in the dark. Add on the last mad dash through the Dealer's Room to make sure I don't have any money left, and it can be pretty crazy.

We got home about 11:00 Monday night and passed right out.

Next up: My usual review of all the cool things I bought there.
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