Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Art and Analysis

Here, as promised, is a piece of art done for the project from award-winning artist Bradley K. McDevitt. It's the Queen of the Field Mice from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." One of my favorites, since she's something of a litmus test to discover who's read the book and who's just seen the movie. This image is copyright Bradley K. McDevitt and used with permission.

I might not be able to get much more art from Brad. He has recently accepted a fairly steady gig from Goodman Games which will prevent him from doing as much freelance work as he had previously done.

If you know anyone who might be able to fill his shoes, let me know. Either comment on this post or email me at

As I was updating the site last week with the new character creation document, I also inserted the tracking code for Google Analytics. Although I have only a week of data, it's still fascinating stuff. Just like the hit counter I installed here, the big revelation is that I get traffic at all.

Also surprising is that nearly everyone comes looking for me, instead of simply stumbling upon me. Only one hit came from a search engine, and the search terms that were used indicate to me that the user was clearly looking for me. One hit came from a link I posted on where I'm trying to start up a play-by-post RPG playtest. Every other hit was "direct traffic", people who came straight to the site.

Geographically, California is the top hit scorer this week, bringing in 5 out of 20 hits for the week. Runners up are Minnesota, Florida, Spain and the UK, all tied for 2 hits each. Yes, I'm getting international traffic. That surprised me, too. I'm just waiting until I get traffic from France, because someone there has published an Oz RPG and I'm curious how my project compares to it.

I should have the main rules section uploaded by next week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Characters

The character creation chapter for the revised Adventures in Oz RPG has been uploaded to the Downloads page. You'll notice that I have implemented the "skill traits" that I mentioned in my last entry. I've also expanded on the "customization notes" entries for a number of the templates, trying to give them a bit more maturity and depth. Possibly more on that later.

Next week will be an art blog. This is not so much because I need to buy time to complete the next section (which I probably do), but also because I really want to show you what Brad McDevitt has done. It's some really good stuff.

It's been about a month since I put in the hit counter and I've already gotten 109 hits. It's not 10,000 hits, but I'm certainly not complaining. It's just good knowing that I'm not the only one reading this. Feel free to drop a hello in the comments, so I can know who you are and say hi back. Us game designers need all the encouragement we can get.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It ... But What If It Is?

The first thing that told me something was wrong with the system was actually when I was assembling the pregenerated characters for "The Magic Belt of Oz". The combat oriented characters had a Fighting skill of only 1. Sure, they all had Deadly Weapons to make the skill useful, but they weren't very good with it. Then I thought that Oz Points would raise that skill when it was needed, but a fight scene often has a number of rolls they would have to make, and Oz Points are a slowly renewable resource.

Something was going to have to give. I tried to give as little as possible, at first. My initial solution was to reprice the Deadly Weapon trait, so that instead of spending 2 points on Deadly Weapon and 1 point on Fighting skill, the characters would have instead spent 2 points on Fighting skill and only 1 point on Deadly Weapon.

It might have worked if that was the only optional skill. But if there were no master fighters, than there were no master craftsmen either. Or master poets. Magic proved to be the last straw. Since the magic system uses 2 optional skills, the fact that neither of them can be very high proves a very glaring error indeed.

If I had any kind of experience system, situations like this could be resolved in a session or two, once the character accrues enough XPs to buy off the deficiency. But the system as it stands does not have the granularity or the depth to really support it. Players would eventually buy up every skill to it's maximum level and all characters would be so similar and so proficient that they would be uninteresting. Also, there's very little character growth through the stories, so it's a little unnecessary when trying to model the fiction. The Oz Point and Friends List system should work to maintain interest and increase character depth over time.

I was wary at first of the idea of "skill traits". I liked the idea of having the variety and granularity that a skill rating provides. However, there didn't seem to be much of an alternative without adding too much complexity to the system. And simplicity is one of my design goals.

Since this change started with the Fighting skill, that leads us into the changes to be made in the combat system.

First of all, let's go back a few entries to where I mention my tenets for design of the combat system. One of them was "Not everyone is a fighter". So making the Fighting skill less useful was a good thing from that perspective. However, the typical gamer perspective is that "everyone is a fighter." A few people I talk games with will use the combat system of a game to get a grasp of it's mechanics. Whenever I mention something new that I'm working on or bought, the question is usually "How does combat work?"

No one wants to sit on the sidelines while everyone else is out being bad-ass. Everyone wants to contribute to the important parts of the game. Everyone must be a fighter. So I folded the Fighting skill into Athletics, which is a skill that every character has. I debated a "skill trait" for fighting, but then realized that everyone would probably take it anyway and then complain about wasted points.

Now it was on to the combat system itself.
The original iteration of the combat system was largely a statement of "You can fight if you want to." There was some basic structure, but nothing interesting. The updated combat system (which will be on the site in a few weeks) will have a selection of maneuvers. In no particular order, these are:

Painful strike: The default attack that anyone can do. Inflicts Wits damage.

Knockdown: A special attack that knocks the opponent over, as well as inflicting Wits damage. This is basically the same attack that Mighty Blow grants, but it allows any player to attempt it by taking a -1 penalty on the attack roll.

Injuring Strike: This is the attack that takes off limbs. Those with the Deadly Weapon trait can attempt it at no penalty, but someone with an improvised deadly weapon (taking down a sword from a wall display, perhaps) can make the attempt at a -2 penalty.

Impress: This one is new, but makes a lot of sense when you look at the source material. This is a challenge of Presence vs. Wits. Most of the fights in the stories were not of the "last man standing" variety that we see in RPGs today. In my previous blog entry on the combat system, I mentioned the idea of Tik-tok administering a spanking to the leader of the Wheelers. The Impress maneuver is typically used after a Painful Strike or Knockdown attack to exploit the opponent's now-weakened Wits rating, much like a parent spanking their child and saying "Don't do that again!" Even if the attempt doesn't get you what you want, it will often rattle your foe enough to produce a Wits penalty.

Defend: By taking this maneuver, your character becomes devoted to defense. They gain a +1 bonus to every roll they make to avoid an attack. They can also make a normal defense roll to protect those within arm's reach. (This is the "Shaggy Man" rule. In "The Road to Oz", the party is running away from the Scoodlers who are trying to put them in the soup pot. The Scoodler's respond by throwing their heads at the adventurers. The Shaggy Man catches every one and drops it down a chasm. You didn't think they were all aimed at him, did you?)

Cast a spell: If the character is a wizard, they may attempt to cast a spell with a simple ritual, or a complex ritual that takes a small amount of time. If a spell has no ritual requirement, they may combine it with another action (likely an Impress attempt).

Movement: This system is intended to be largely abstract. If a character wishes to move a significant distance, the Narrator may decide that such movement will take all of the character's turn to complete.

I should have a revised character creation chapter on my site by next week, which will reflect the revised character creation options that I've mentioned here, along with a few other tweaks.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Back To The Drawing Board

I guess the Tin Woodman didn't tell me everything I needed to know about combat.

I have gotten relatively few comments on the game itself. The best I've gotten are two people who said that it was a good representation of the stories, but not something that they wanted to play. When I pressed for details, one of them said that the game wasn't action oriented enough. The other one said that the game was clearly "kiddie".

While I realize that kids are likely to be a significant part of my target market, I'd like to do something to make their parents want to play, too. To that end, I am undertaking a revision of the system to make the combat system more interesting and likely to be used. Also, I'll be revising my setting information so that I am not relying so much on Baum's descriptions. Although he did really good stuff, I think that putting more of my own voice to that material will help increase the overall maturity of the work.

If you want to play the revised game now, here's what you do:

1) Eliminate the Fighting skill. All of it's functions are taken over by the Athletics skill.

2) Since the Fighting skill is gone, raise the Soldier template's Sneaking skill to 2.

3) All optional skills now become 1 point traits which allow use of the basic skills in new ways. For example, the Rhyming skill becomes the Poet trait which allows the use of Presence to perform improvised poems or songs. The Magic skill should probably be a 2-pointer, allowing the use of the Brains skill with the magic system.

Let me know how these changes affect your game, if any of you are actually playing it.

Next week may be another art blog, but that's okay, because I've started paying Bradley McDevitt and therefore feel comfortable showing off some of the work I've gotten from him.
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