Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Making Time For Friendship

When I initially designed Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, one of my concerns was making sure that the character creation process was quick and painless. If a video game isn't entertaining for the first 10-15 minutes, you're not going to want to play through the 10-20 hours of content it provides. Same basic principle. If this is my first time sitting down to play an RPG, a character creation process that can take hours had better be worth it. But in my desire to streamline that process, I recently realized that I may have done a disservice to one of the game's primary themes.

You see, as part of the character creation process, I instruct the player to simply write down the other characters in the group as their starting Friends List. Simple and easy, right? But it doesn't really answer the question of why those people are on that list. Not just "Why are you traveling together?" but "Why are you all friends?"

One thing that some tables do is hold a "Session 0" for their campaigns, detailing everything that is needed before Session 1 (the first session of the adventure) can begin. In a heavier system, this session might be taken up with character creation. Each player deciding on their character's niche in the party and building toward that. It can also involve the Narrator detailing the world that the characters will adventure in and players deciding the backstory for their characters.

If an AiO Narrator were to run a Session 0 for their campaign, I think the primary activity would be working out the relationships between all of the characters. Who helped who where and how. I'm sort of picturing the first third or so of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz being Session 0, detailing how the characters met and how they all wound up on each other's Friends List with Session 1 beginning with their arrival in the Emerald City and the Wizard ordering the party to kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

Maybe if I do a revised edition of the game, I'll work something out to give this a bit more structure and make it more of a mini-game.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


I mentioned in my last post that a friend of mine had recently passed. Well ,yesterday, they finally got around to holding her memorial service and I attended/ As is normal for me, my eyes were faucets through the whole thing. I can be surprisingly stoic after finding out about a person's passing, but no matter what, the waterworks come out at the service.

In honor of Meghan, I'd like to share a story or two about her here. I met her in around 2002-03 at the local university's gaming club. It's a little surprising that I don't remember the precise moment of our meeting. She was such a powerful presence that you tend to notice when she walks in the room even if you weren't looking at the door.

I think I might have been introduced to her by my friend Jordan. I remember that I was running GURPS Prime Directive (a Star Trek RPG) at the local university's gaming club and the party had roughly modeled themselves on the A-Team. Jordan's Rigellian Marine was our B.A. Baracus (Mr. T's character on that show). But with the school year winding down, we were going to lose access to the classrooms that the gaming club had reserved, as well as some of the players, so we were discussing how and whether we were going to continue gaming over the summer.

It turns out that Meghan's father was a pastor at a local church and she was willing to talk her father into letting us use the church's meeting room for our game. So over that summer, we played a fairly short campaign of Exalted until school started again.

My favorite Meghan story actually comes from the next campaign that I ran, which was in the GURPS Technomancer setting. One thing to keep in mind is that GURPS has a lot of rules, and not all of them are intended to be used at once. Some of them are optional and some of them are deliberately silly and intended for use in very silly campaigns. One of these rules was called "Bulletproof nudity." Basically, the less clothes you wear, the less likely you are to be hit by bad guys.

I had no intention of allowing this rule to be invoked, but this is where Meghan's big personality came in. I knew I would lose any staring contest I tried to engage her in. Also, she totally committed to the nudity thing. She described er character as wearing sarongs or other clothes that could be whipped off in an instant when things got dangerous.

The whole thing came to a climax one day when she stepped out to the bathroom during one session and returned in what can only be described as a "nude suit." A flesh tone bodysuit that didn't reveal anything, but you had to give it a second look to be sure. She topped it off with a red gauze scarf to represent the blood of her enemies. I don't remember if that was a reference to something that had happened in a recent battle, or just something she had come up with.

Needless to say, this had quite an effect on the room. The biggest effect was on my young friend Jordan. He was, as I just said, young. Not quite 18, a bit socially awkward, and I think he had a crush on Meghan to boot. He felt the need to leave the room to cool off for a bit. If this were an anime, there would have been a nosebleed.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bad News and Good News

As I'm sure you've guessed, the times I'm able to get into the zone for proper blogging have been few and far between lately. Aside from obvious reasons that I'll get into in a moment, what is motivating me to write today is anger.

You see, earlier this week, I discovered that a friend of mine had died. Not only that, but she had died about a month ago. It was a sudden illness, so there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary last time I saw her. But that was some time ago. Longer than I care to admit, actually. She was a good person and actually pretty cool to game with. She just had a big personality that I could only really handle in limited doses. So there's a bit of guilt in with all the grieving, too.

So where does the anger come from? Well, when her old roommate came by to give me the news, I verified by checking the obituaries on the local paper's website. I found a brief notification of her death, but no mention of services or surviving family or any of that business. And that set me off. The thought that nobody cared enough to write the obituary or hold a service has really bugged me.

I later found out that she would get a memorial service next month. 2 months after her death. While I'm glad she'll have gotten some sort of memorial, the delay feels unconscionable to me.

This is relevant to this blog not only because she was a personal friend of mine, but also a gamer and an Oz fan. Regretfully, the period in which I was initially developing AiO was a time where I was taking a bit of a hiatus from her. I did give her a copy of the finished product, though.

So with all this anger at my more or less forgotten friend, I decided to take that energy and make a rare leap forward.

I know I teased the notion of a magic supplement, giving some more depth to the magic rules for AiO called The Wizard's Magic Bag. And that teasing went unfulfilled. Behind the scenes, the product was done, complete with interior art and layout. But I still needed cover art. I was in talks with one of my artists to do the cover, but that fell through the cracks like so much else has done lately.

So I decided to kitbash a cover for this product and release it, not only to get my own rear in gear, but as something of a memorial to my friend. This one's for you, Meghan.

The Wizard's Magic Bag, now available!

Also, since it is L. Frank Baum's birthday today, the Royal Podcast of Oz did another full-cast reading of one of the Little Wizard Stories. This year, it was "The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman," featuring me as the Tin Woodman!

Give it a listen!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Not What I Wanted, But It'll Have To Do

Of course, once I am home from the con, it's time for me to tell you all about the cool stuff I bought. Unfortunately, I didn't buy very much cool stuff this year. The main reason for this was a lack of core product for sale.

For example: One item that was really big this year was the Dracula Dossier, a supplement for Night's Black Agents, a game of spies versus vampires. But there were no copies of NBA to be had. After listening to Ken and Robin plug this thing all to heck on their podcast, I was looking forward to closing that gap in my collection and adding on the new hotness in one fell swoop. But it was not to be.

Supplements tend to be a tough sell with me. I either have to be running the game or sufficiently impressed with the game just by reading it to throw more money that direction. I also enjoy checking out new ideas in gaming rather than dwelling too much on the same thing.

Buying supplements also makes me feel like I'm doing a disservice to you, my dear reader. I know not all of you are tabletop gamers. Recommending a supplement to people who haven't bought the core system is like recommending DLC for a video game that other people might not have. But it seems to be what we have to work with this year.

Rifts: 3 Rifts books (and one Rifter magazine) made it into the collection this year. South America 1 and 2 written by  C.J. Carella, the one Rifts writer I've found that doesn't suck. Other Rifts fans may disagree with me, but I think his overall body of work outside of Rifts is pretty impressive and his work within the Rifts universe maintains that standard.

Men in Black: One of only 2 core rulebooks I picked up this year. It was released to tie in with the first film, so it's a pretty slim volume. It was published by West End Games using a version of their D6 System. Needless to say, I bought this one used from the Buyers Bazaar.

Doctor Who: Having picked up the Fourth Doctor sourcebook last year, I thought I would pick up some more Doctor Who supplements. So this year I got the sourcebooks for the Second and Third Doctors. The Third Doctor is pretty much my favorite Doctor, though mostly for his supporting cast rather than the specific virtues of Jon Pertwee. His era featured my favorite Master as well as my favorite companion, Sergeant Benton.

These books are something of an exception to my rule of not recommending supplements. If you are a fan of classic Doctor Who, you will find something to like in these books.

DC Universe: Another vintage buy from West End Games. I've owned the core book for some time, but this year adds the Metropolis and JLA Sourcebooks to my collection. Most of the content of these books are character write-ups with game statistics. There are interesting bits of history and setting details buried in there as well.

Licensed superhero RPGs seem to rely fairly heavily on the existing characters of the franchise. Which really sets them apart from nearly every other RPG out there. There might be a blog post in there somewhere, but for now, it's just an interesting observation.

Inner Sea Races: The wife's pick this year. I don't mean to imply that she only buys one book a year. She makes a number of game buying decisions over the course of the year. DunDraCon is just much more of a vacation and chance to play for her. Inner Sea Races is primarily a "fluff" supplement detailing racial and ethnic groups in the Inner Sea region of Golarion, the default setting for the Pathfinder RPG.

Golden Sky Stories: This is a game from Japan, translated into English and the second and last core rulebook I bought this year. It calls itself "Heartwarming Roleplaying." The characters you will create are henge, animals with magical powers, including the ability to transform into a human. The system doesn't use dice to resolve tasks, but instead gives you points to spend on your actions. These are Feelings (for mundane actions) and Wonder (to use a henge's magical abilities).

You are rewarded for helping humans with Threads and Connections to help you on later adventures. Every now and again, I'm tempted to add a more complex relationship system into AiO. But I think that exploration and discovery are major themes of the stories, so a mechanical bribe to stay in one place doesn't seem right. But for this game, it seems to work fine.

The animated films My Neighbor Totoro and Pom Poko are good inspirational material if you are going to run or play Golden Sky Stories.

Munchkin Adventure Time: Without as many RPGs to buy, I picked up a few card games. This version of Munchkin features not only monsters from the land of Ooo, but also gives you the opportunity to play as your favorite Adventure Time heroes (or their cross gender fan fiction counterparts).

The Dungeon Crawl expansion offers another new card type: Dungeon cards. These offer neat bonuses and penalties based on locations.

Fluxx: I had previously purchased the Oz version, so I decided to pick up the Zombie and Cthulhu versions of the game. The main twist here is that both of these games feature "Ungoals," which work just like Goal cards, but if their conditions are met, the bad guys win and everybody loses. However, there are also cards you can play in order to "switch sides," making a victory for the bad guys a victory for you, too.

Deck of Fate: An accessory for Fate Core. If you can't get your hands on those funky FUDGE  dice, this is an interesting alternative. The main deck can be used to simulate a roll of the dice and each card also contains a small bit of description related to how high or low you "rolled." There are 2 additional "arcana," mini-sets which are supposed to be inspirational, but I don't see much use for them at this point. Maybe when I get around to running Fate.

And yes, that is another Noteboard on the top of the stack.

 Just because my wife doesn't buy a lot of games at DDC doesn't mean she doesn't spend money. There was a nerd crafts booth, where my wife got me this: a wooden medallion with my name written in Gallifreyan burned into it.

And a new addition to my collection of Star Trek nerd shirts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

DunDraCon 2016!

Hey there, blog fans! My slump may be slowing down my blogging, but it's not keeping me from taking my annual vacation (and marketing opportunity!). The reason that I haven't been liveblogging, or taking many photos this year is that I've actually been too busy gaming and having fun to tell you all about it.

Well, it wasn't all fun and games. The Greyhound bus that was to start my wife and I on our adventure on Thursday started out about a half hour late. We arrived in San Francisco probably about an hour and a half to two hours late. The BART train was still running, but by the time we got to Pleasanton, the last bus had already left. So a $4 bus ride became a $25 cab ride. It was past 8 PM when we finally got to the hotel, so all we did after that was to get some dinner and go to bed.

The one perk of this trip was this: a license plate I spotted in the McDonald's parking lot during our meal stop.

I understand that only 1 person in the state can have a license plate that says "BATMAN" and that the early bird catches the worm. I almost thought this guy remembered the '90's and Bart Simpson as Bartman, but then I noticed that there was more than one R on the plate. All I can say is ERMAHGERD! IT'S BRTMRN!

We had reserved Thursday night at the convention hotel. Even though the con didn't start til Friday, they were good enough to get us convention pricing on the night before. Thanks to that, it actually came out cheaper than the Best Western we laid over in last year.

Friday is when the fun officially began. Not only was it the first official day of the convention, but also the first time I ran my new scenario, “The Winged Monkeys of Oz” (it's a tentative title, but they're a big theme in the adventure, so it works). I was actually kind of surprised that it was scheduled for the “P” session, which players could only sign up for on the convention website before the con actually began. As it was, I got three signups and 2 no-shows. But I also did get 2 “crashers,” people who had not signed up, but hoped to play anyway. In this case, a mother and her 10-12 year old son.

This session was probably the most fun I've had running Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. I think mostly because the characters being played were Toto, the Scarecrow and Bungle the Glass Cat. Accomplishing some of the tasks the adventure requer ired while being so small and having no opposable thumbs was an entertaining challenge. And because the adventure wasn't as structured as I typically do, (though more structured than Jaded City) there was just enough room for me to feel comfortable improvising.

And not long after that was my first opportunity to have fun as a player and not worry about all the things that a Narrator has to worry about. The game was set (somewhat) in the universe of the classic TV show Lost in Space. The players were portraying the crew of the Jupiter-1, the testbed for the technologies on the Jupiter-2 which would later house the Space Family Robinson.

The system was a variant on Classic Traveler and we all rolled up our characters before we began. It was actually something of a fun twist, since most of my experience has been with pre-generated characters. Most modern systems offer more detail and depth, but that makes generating a character a time consuming process that you don't want to do if you're only playing the character once. But by using an older system, we were able to build our own characters fairly quickly with instruction from the GM.

Though like the Space Family Robinson, we were sabotaged by Dr. Zachary Smith (though he didn't get stuck on board like he did when he would later sabotage the Jupiter-2). Our space warp drive misfired and we wound up way off course around a planet we had no reason to believe even existed.

I won't spoil too much in case that GM runs it at another con, but there were natives where we didn't expect there to be natives and the main trade goods we could think to offer them were Pop-Tarts in their shiny mylar packaging (which matched our space suits). It became something of a running joke throughout the adventure.

I think I managed to get a full 8 hours of sleep between that and my next game, which was Whitney Preston's Mythos Trek. I might not have. There was fun, but I don't know if it was quite the degree of fun we could have had if I had been more present. There's also the fact that I had to take some time out from this session to make sure that the Dealer's Room was stocked with copies of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

To make sure there were no hiccups this year, I brought some copies of my game so that the vendor would have inventory. The operator of the booth got stuck in traffic for a few minutes and his booth didn't open when the Dealer's Room did. But that's the worst that happened. I checked back at the booth a few times (and bought some things, too) and people did buy it.

There was a game immediately after the Mythos Trek game that I was interested in attending, but I realized that I had to take some time to help polish my wife's adventure. It was her first time trying to run Fate Core. Her tastes normally run to Pathfinder, but then someone had to make a setting for Fate called The Secrets of Cats, featuring magical cats protecting their humans (whom they think of as Burdens) from various supernatural nasties.

The morning led to another run of The Winged Monkeys of Oz, with a full table. There were a couple of crashers, too. Two players were even daring enough to create their own characters. I use the AiO Characters Pack for my pregenerated characters and that includes 2 blank character sheets. I've offered several time to allow players to make their own characters, but this is the first time anyone took me up on it.

We picked up Prince Nawer, a Field Mouse Noble and a cowboy version of the Scarecrow with a lasso, a pop gun and a magical stick horse. I didn't note his name and he took his character sheet with him when the game was over.

Once another successful and enjoyable Oz adventure was had, there were only 2 hours until it was time for my wife to present her adventure. My wife and I are very different people. It's part of how we get along so well. I'm a planner and she's an improviser. So every year when she runs an adventure, I'm the one who tears his hair out trying to make sure that she has some idea of what she's going to do. Then I hand her the framework of an adventure (always far less than she needs to run it, IMO) and then she goes in to the room and improvises an entertaining adventure for all.

I offered to stick around and sort of assist her with the system, but I quickly realized that having 2 G.M.s was making things more complicated, not less. I stuck my nose in a few times to make sure everything was okay, and it seemed to be doing alright. The way Aspects work in Fate Core is always a learning curve, but it seems she did fine and the players had a lot of fun.

Since Sunday was Valentine's Day, the rest of this very full day was dedicated to a romantic dinner and other such things. The only thing we didn't do was take a swim in the pool. We don't have ready access to a pool back home, so it's one of the things my wife looks forward too every year. So we made a point of taking a quick swim in the morning before breakfast. I can't swim, but I love looking at my wife in a swimsuit, so I hang out in the shallow end while she cuts loose. It's a win-win.

My wife says I have great legs. So for Valentine's Day, I wore a kilt for her. Here's a photo of me for all those fans of me, sexy men's legs and kilts.

From there, it was a very smooth packing-up process and I am writing this from the Greyhound bus that is the last leg home. There are still things to discuss, such as what I bought this year and my design process for the first new Oz adventure in quite some time. But I think those are blog posts for other days. Hopefully soon.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Where I'm Going

Don't worry. As a blogger, I'm still here. It may come in fits and starts, but I don't think I'm leaving the blogosphere any time soon.

My physical self, however, is getting ready to travel. DunDraCon is next month and I haven't missed one yet. Well, there were quite a few I haven't gone to before I knew it was a thing. But once I started going, my streak has been unbroken.

There will be some changes in how I'll be doing things this year. For one, I am taking steps to ensure that AiO will be available for sale at the Endgame booth. I have ordered a number of copies that I will personally take to the convention with me and deliver by hand to the booth itself.

The other thing I am hoping to do is run a new adventure. I have already submitted my pitch for an adventure called "The Winged Monkeys of Oz" based on that notion in my brain of the Winged Monkeys ruining someone's party in the Emerald City. Maybe I'll do a blog post going into detail on my writing process.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oz In The Cards

As much as I would love to make sure all of my lovely readers (Yes, all 3 of you) pick up Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road for their loved ones this Christmas (or whatever gift-giving holidays you do celebrate), some of you might already have the game and are looking for the next big thing to give this year.

So here are a couple of standalone card games that I've found that might just scratch that Oz gifting itch. Both are expressions of existing card games, but offer a fun, Ozzy twist.

Oz Fluxx: The fun of the Fluxx card games is that the rules are always changing. While the game starts simple (draw 1 card from the deck, then play one card from your hand each turn), there are cards that describe new rules which change those basics when they are played. The object of the game is to acquire a set of 2 or 3 Keeper cards (characters and objects from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz), but which set of cards you need to win is another element that can change as the players bring out different Goal cards.

Watch out for Creepers! Creeper cards represent the villains and monsters of the Wizard of Oz. If you have a Creeper in play, you cannot win the game unless the Goal card currently in play requires it.

Most of the Oz references in this version of the game are drawn from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but it seems like the designers were trying to hew closely to the expectations from the film version. There are no Kalidahs, but the Fighting Trees and Winged Monkeys are present as Creeper cards. Three of Oz's four Witches make an appearance: Both Wicked Witches are Creepers, and the Good Witch of the North is a Keeper (looking much as she did when Denslow drew her), but Glinda the Good Witch of the South is not present.

There are some literary touches. For example, the Goal card that requires you to collect the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow is titled "Future Leaders of Oz." A "Golden Cap" Action card lets a player summon and command the Winged Monkeys to rest in front of the player of their choice. Another Action card is called "Ozma's Decree," but it's the only reference to the extended canon that I found in the set.

All in all, it's a fairly simple, fun game for fans of the film version or the book. And if you want a version with a different theme, or to see what other fun games they have, check out LooneyLabs.com

Munchkin Oz: This is currently a Target exclusive, and I picked up my set at my local Target store last week.

While Oz Fluxx only had slight connections to the deeper Oz canon, Munchkin Oz is bursting with them. Not content with simple Flying Monkeys and Fighting Trees, monsters and enemies from nearly every book are present. Rigmaroles and Flutterbudgets at level 1, all the way up through Wheelers, Whimsies and Invisible Bears, with the infamous Nome King as the set's only level 20 monster.

Gameplay is the same as other Munchkin games. You start as a Level 1 nobody competing with the other players to defeat monsters and be the first to rise to Level 10. On their turn, players "kick down the door," turning over a Door card to reveal a monster to fight (though other things turn up on Door cards). If a player's Level (and all bonuses from Treasure items) is greater than the monster's Level, they've won the fight, getting a Level closer to victory and drawing more Treasures to become more powerful.

One nice addition is the inclusion of Ally cards. A wide variety of characters from the Oz stories, from Dorothy Gale to Polychrome the Rainbow's Daughter can provide you with combat bonuses
 and special abilities.

The Treasure cards also bear a distinct Oz flavor. You can get a Yellow Brick from the Yellow Brick Road, take a peek at Ozma's Magic Painting, or make a quick escape by eating a Dama-Fruit. Even the traditional weapons and armor get into the fun, with the Gillikin Guisarme, the Munchkin Morningstar and the (I kid you not!) Baumstick!

Depending on the kind of Oz fan you are, you might not go for the combat theme. But if you can get past that, the Oz references are fairly constant and add to the fun. It can also be combined with other Munchkin sets to mix genres and jokes.
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