Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blog 100!

Not only is this my last post of 2009, it is also my 100th blog posting!

Let's take a quick look back at the blog

Most popular post: The Indie Jones. I guess people like my take on indie RPGs. Not many seem to disagree with me, as that post still has no comments. Which leads me to my next milestone,

Most commented post: This is actually sort of a tie. The most commented post of 2008, my first year of blogging, was The Future Will Be Interactive! with 8 total comments. The most commented post of 2009 was Goodbye and Hello, also with 8 comments.

Now for New Year's Resolutions:

Publish something, for Pete's sake!: This is in progress. Just a few more hurdles await me. Mostly regarding getting art commissioned and paid for. Also, I'm confident enough that I should be able to publish two things this year. I'll be honest and say that I don't know what they are, but one of them will be Adventures in Oz.

I have entered an RPG design contest put on by Simian Circle Games. It will be something of an Iron Chef contest, in that I must design something during the contest that utilizes certain special ingredients. If you're interested in seeing how this game develops, I'll be posting updates here.

Get the word out!: I will be attending DunDraCon this year, and have volunteered to run a new Oz adventure "The Jaded City of Oz." This was written by my friend Kris and will be showing up in the AiO rulebook as a sample adventure. I would love to be able to attend Winkie '10, but at the moment, I don't think I can afford two conventions that close to one another. I do want to try for '11, though.

Podcast!: After Jared's interview and the Christmas podcast, I discovered that podcasting is something else that sounds intimidating, but really isn't that hard to do. My only challenge is coming up with fun things to say. Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Laughing Valley!

As Christmas rolls around here in the land of Oz, the focus shifts to L. Frank Baum's interpretation of the Santa Claus story, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.

While I'm not a fan of the story (I blogged about that fact last year), I'm not about to step on anyone's Christmas fun.

This year, I present to you Santa Claus as a playable character for Adventures in Oz!

Template: Wanderer

Size: 3

Athletics 2
Awareness 2
Brains 3
Presence 4
Sneaking 2 (on Christmas)
Wits 2

Traits: Craftsman (Toys)

Friends List


Note: This version of Santa was created using the standard character creation rules and is suitable for a player. If any Narrators want to use Santa in their stories as a supporting cast member, or allow Santa to appear on another character's Friends List, they are not bound by these numbers in the slightest.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What lies Beyond?

One of my big themes is "There's more to Oz than the Yellow Brick Road." But what do I mean by that?

On the surface, it's simple: While everyone has seen the MGM movie (and its various sequels and re-imaginings) a lot more has been written about Oz than most people are aware of. And it's really fun stuff and I think people are missing out if they haven't read it.

Below that, it gets more interesting: Oz is a land of imagination. It's a place where (to quote Judy Garland) "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true." I think that because of the success of the classic film, people tend to treat Oz as a "one-story world", meaning that, no matter how well or thoroughly crafted, it was all made to support that one particular story.

Terry Pratchett describes the Discworld as "a place where stories happen." Oz is very much the same. There are all kinds of stories waiting to happen in Oz, only a few of which have already been told. There is always something new to discover and explore.

This is one of the reasons that I think Oz is perfect for adaptation into an RPG. It's possible to tell stories that emerge from the existing lore (like the Tin Woodman tracking down his lost love in The Tin Woodman of Oz) but also to do something that has no real connection to Wizard (like Tik-Tok of Oz). New original characters are a regular occurrence (Patchwork Girl, anyone?).

There really are no limits to an Oz story, and I hope that Adventures in Oz (when it comes out) helps support that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Art preview fit for a princess

Here's an art preview (first one in a long time) featuring the lovely Princess Parasol. Copyright (c) 2009 Amanda Webb, used with permission.


Princess Parasol is an original character I created to flesh out some examples in the Narrator's chapter of the game. While a number of the examples in the rules sections are from the Oz stories (like using the race between Jim the Cab-Horse and the Saw-Horse as an example of contested actions) to create a feeling of "These are things that happen in Oz, and you can do them in the game", I wanted the Narrator's section examples to illustrate the sort of things that would be actually be encountered at the gaming table. So instead of using Dorothy or the Scarecrow as examples, I said, "One of your players has created an original character named Princess Parasol. Here are some ideas as to how to create stories around that character."

One thing I didn't do, and might be fun, was approach the character from a player's perspective. The only thing I mentioned about the character was that she was from Umbre-La, a kingdom that was ruled by her father, King Bumbershoot. I did throw out the story idea of her rescuing her father from the Cloud Tyrant, but nothing else about her backstory or any other things that she's done.

And so I turn to you, faithful readers. What would Princess Parasol be like if she was your character? What would her backstory be? What are her adventures like? For the daring, how would you stat her for Adventures in Oz?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Name Game

Mike Conway of Darkstar Eclectic Media, soon-to-be-publisher of Heroes of Oz, has mentioned that he once toyed with calling his game Adventures in Oz but decided against it to avoid confusion with Eric Shanower's comic book of that name. So why am I sticking with that name?

For one thing, it's not trademarked. A quick trademark search only found one close match: Adventures in Oz with Cheryl, a kids fitness video series put together by former American Gladiator Cheryl Silch. Also, Adventures in Oz appears to be the name of a children's board game.

When coming up with a name for my game, I wrestled long and hard with it. Coming up with something that set the right tone for the game was definitely a challenge. "The Wizard of Oz: The RPG"? Doesn't convey the scope of the setting. "The Land of Oz"? Conveys geographical scope, but could also be simply a reference work. Also the title of the second book in the series. "Adventures in Oz"? Conveys the idea that Oz is a place where adventures happen.

My logo designer, Brad McDevitt, threw in a really neat touch when he turned in the logo. He added a little subtitle: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond The Yellow Brick Road. It actually says a lot of what I want to get across: 1) That it is a fantasy roleplaying game, 2) that it is an Oz game, and 3) That there is more to Oz than the Yellow Brick Road, which is one of the main ideas of my marketing campaign (you didn't know that I had a marketing campaign, did you? BWAHAHAHAHHAHAHA!)

For the record, I don't think I would have gone for "Heroes of Oz" as the name of the game. To me, it says that the game is about heroic action. But looking at the stories, the most common protagonist is a little girl, not Bruce Willis.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No more "Hollywood handshake"

For those of you who haven't heard the term, there was a time in Hollywood that a handshake was considered to be the equivalent to a signed contract. This notion may have changed since last I heard, as I am out of touch with a lot of things.

While the "Hollywood handshake" may or may not be dead in Hollywood, it is alive and well on the internet. For a wide variety of purposes, simply clicking a little button or checkbox counts as a "signature" or agreement to a set of terms. Even sites like or will let you sell products with little more than this.

The reason I'm talking about this is because I have discovered a rather interesting exception. I've mentioned that I am interested in selling AiO as a PDF file, as this is a profitable option in the RPG market. There are a number of sites that sell gaming PDFs, like RPGnow, DrivethruRPG, YourGamesNow, and And every one of them requires a signature signed on honest-to-god paper using actual ink.

In other news, the game is still in progress. It is currently being laid out, incorporating the art that I've commissioned as well as discovering the places where it needs more art. Which means that I have to commission more art in order to fill these "art holes" and that is a process which takes time. I can't simply tell an artist "Give me 2 barbarian warriors, 3 eldritch abominations, and a orc with a battle-axe". As I mentioned in Jared's podcast, finding the right artists and art is a task in itself.

Although my goal was to release it this year (preferably August 21st), I am finding myself facing realities that it might have to wait until next year. I could probably put something out right now, but it would not be the game that I want to put out, and I don't think it would be the game that Oz fans and gamers deserve. So the progress bar is at about 95% and creeping ever closer to 100%.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Making Gamers, part 2

I actually wanted to do this blog last week, but I felt that I was putting up too many gaming posts and losing my Oz "cred". I keep shooting for a balance, but that balance swings from one side to the other before it eventually (I hope) settles down.

I think one of the biggest obstacles to bringing more gamers into the hobby is, well, the gamers themselves.

Reason #1) The Geek Social Fallacies. Everyone wants friends that accept you for who you are. But there is such a thing as taking it too far. The unwashed nerd is a pervasive stereotype and a tough one to beat. The good news is that I have only met 1, maybe 2, in my 10 years as a gamer. All of the other gamers I've known have been fairly normal people.

Reason #2) Gamers think they need gamers. It's a fairly common complaint on RPG forums and internet boards: "I can't find any gamers!" People seem to think that only people who play RPGs are going to be interested in playing RPGs. I'll admit that I fall into this to at least some degree. My last two gaming groups have consisted of people that I knew from previous gaming experience.

But remember that every gamer started out gaming sometime. Whether that was red box D&D at the age of 10 or finding the gaming club at your local university, before that point, you were just an ordinary non-gamer. Someone had to introduce you to the idea, plant the seed in your brain and run your first game.

I'd like to propose that any gamers out there reading this invite one of their non-gamer friends to their next game. And if you're a gamer who can't find enough gamers for a group, try gathering some friends and see what happens. And for those Oz fans out there, next time you have a meetup, rather than busting out Trivial Pursuit Wizard of Oz edition, try Adventures in Oz. The beta files are still available on my website until the official game is released, so you don't have to wait forever.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Wizard of Three

I'm not a numerologist, but there's something about fairy tales and the number 3. From the 3 little pigs to Goldilocks and the 3 bears, the number 3 turns up all the time in these stories. It's actually a neat little narrative trick. The first incident (the first little pig with his house of straw) initiates the pattern. The second incident (the second little pig with his house of sticks) confirms the pattern, creating an expectation in the reader's mind. The third incident (the third little pig with his house of bricks) either fulfills or breaks the pattern in a climactic way (the Big Bad Wolf can't blow down the house of bricks and climbs down the chimney into the fireplace).

The story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz uses the number 3, but not in the traditional fairytale manner. Dorothy's adventures often break down into blocks of 3.

Upon starting on her journey, Dorothy makes 3 friends (Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion). Before arriving in the Emerald City, the party faces 3 dangers (the river crossing, the Kalidahs and the Poppy Field). On their journey to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West, the friends must face 3 waves of creatures sent by the Witch to destroy them. Once the Witch is defeated, Dorothy gains the Golden Cap, which allows her to command the Winged Monkeys (you guessed it!) 3 times. Not surprisingly, the ritual to summon the Winged Monkeys has 3 steps.

There is a little flexing of this pattern in the final leg of Dorothy's adventure. It looks very much like Dorothy and company have 4 encounters in this part of the story (the Fighting Trees, the Dark Forest, the China Country, and the Hammerheads). If I were to force it to fit the pattern, I would do so by not counting the Dark Forest. It was much more about the Cowardly Lion and giving him a place to rule, like Tin Woodman had the Winkie Country and Scarecrow had the Emerald City, than it was about the group having an adventure.

Both of these "Rules of 3" can be useful when preparing a story for an RPG. A fairy tale-style story can be easily created by setting up 3 simple scenes, each echoing a single theme or incident.

One of my players often makes the joke that the distance between any two places in my RPG worlds is "3 random encounters." (Even though I never use random encounters.) But it's not a bad idea. If you wanted to set up a list of random encounters for the characters to face, or just plan them into your story, it would make the land of Oz a bit more alive and interesting.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Very Merry Un-Birthday To Who? To Me!

It may not be my birthday today, but it will be tomorrow. I will be 31 years old. This is the second birthday of mine to be commemorated on this blog and hopefully not the last.

And have I got a present for you! This lovely map of Oz was created by the talented cartographer Steff Worthington for inclusion in my game, Adventures in Oz. He is also working on a lovely color map which will be made available as a poster on my Zazzle store and I plan on releasing that version of the map under a Creative Commons Non-commercial license. Until then, this map is copyright (C) me and usable only with permission or as otherwise allowed by Fair Use laws.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

There's Something About a Zombie

Only a slightly Halloween themed post this year. I'm not even talking about real zombies. I'm talking about a situation some Narrators may find themselves in and the solution that I found.

The game was a pulp/fantasy/sci-fi mishmosh using the Cartoon Action Hour rules. The heroes had just escaped from an ancient genetics lab that had been taken over by the genetic constructs it produced. Not far off was a village made up of the ancestors of the scientists who worked in the lab. Naturally, there was a bit of conflict between the two settlements, with the genetics lab producing giant dinosaurs to stomp the village flat. The villagers were tough enough to fight the dinosaurs, but didn't have the resources for a frontal assault on the lab, so it had been a stalemate for decades.

Finally, with the intervention of the heroes, the stalemate was broken and the genetics lab released a new species to assault the villagers. One nastier and more dangerous than any dinosaur: The double-decker wolves! (One day, I might share the story of where that idea came from. It's pretty funny.)

I had expected the players to get their characters back to the village before returning to civilization at large. Only one of them decided to do so.

This left me in something of a bind. I had an epic battle planned with only one player participating. I could leave it out, but that would weaken the consistency of the world I was building. Thankfully, this was the end-of-the-session cliffhanger, so I had a week to think about it.

I have mentioned the Dream Park RPG as the inspiration for a couple aspects of AiO. Well, it came to my rescue once more. In Dream Park, a character may get "killed out" of a particular story, but can come back in the next story. Until the next story, that player has nothing to do, right? No, they get to play a "zombie." In the original Dream Park novel (it was a series of novels before it was an RPG), it describes players coming back to play actual zombies, but the RPG makes it clear that you don't necessarily have to play undead.

So I decided that while the one player who stayed in the village would play his character while the rest of the group would take on temporary characters, villagers who are defending their home. The idea caught on and the players would often create a "zombie" character while the party was split. When I started another game in that world recently (this time under the Savage Worlds rules), one of the players decided to bring in one of his former zombies in as his main character.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Making Gamers

It has been said that it is next to impossible to make gamers. You cannot just give people an RPG and expect them to go for it. That is one of the many things I picked up from the very experienced Aldo Ghiozzi and I have no reason to doubt him.

But the fact remains that it did happen. When Dungeons & Dragons debuted, there was no existing RPG market for them to draw off of. Vampire: The Masquerade also drew people into the hobby that might not have otherwise played. Several other games have tried this and failed. What did they do that worked?

Both games appealed to the non-roleplayer. D&D started life as a miniatures wargame with a few innovations. Vampire came out during the heyday of the goth subculture and gave players an opportunity to create a consistent world where they were all vampires and had plenty of reason to be goth and emo. Also, as we can see, they both connected with these groups when they were at their height.

With the 70th anniversary of the MGM movie this year, and the 100th anniversary of The Road to Oz for the Oz nerds, it seems like that is starting to happen. The third novel in The Wicked Years (A Lion Among Men) came out this year and Wicked is still going strong on Broadway with talk of a film adaptation. All of this sets a pretty fertile field for Oz activity of all sorts.

And I think an Oz RPG like Adventures in Oz has a lot to offer the Oz community. Oz gamers can finally have a rule system designed with Oz in mind. Oz scholars can enjoy picking apart the Oz reference material I have compiled for the book. Oz collectors can have one more item for their ever-growing collections. Oz art fans can bask in the new art that I have commissioned for the game. Oz writers and storytellers can have one more outlet for their imagination.

I think I can make some gamers. Are you going to be one of them?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My First Role-Playing Game

So you've decided to play your first RPG (preferably Adventures in Oz).

Your first step is to gather your play group and decide who will be the Narrator. You can play with as few as 2 people, one player with a character and the other as the Narrator, but the optimum group is about 4-6 people to get a good mix of personalities among the players and a good mix of abilities among the characters. Larger groups can be hard to manage and may not allow for each character to have a very unique niche.

If you're the one who bought the rulebook and gathered everyone together, you have likely stuck yourself in the position of Narrator. You might be able to talk someone else into taking it on, if they are more creative, more organized, more of a leader in general, or more of an Oz nerd than you are, but don't count on it.

Once you've established who's Narrator, it's time for everyone else to create their characters. Since a character is the player's "playing piece", don't skimp on this process. Try to make character creation a group process. Even if you have one copy of the rulebook, so only one person can reference at a given time, the rest of the players can still provide ideas, and make decisions about the characters they will create once they get the book.

Creating characters for Adventures in Oz is surprisingly quick compared to other systems I've played. I typically set up the first session of any game just for character creation, to let everyone have a chance to look at the book and make adjustments as needed (GURPS, although it is one of my favorite systems, sometimes requires 1 and a half sessions to get everyone to a point where they're satisfied with their characters). Even with all the other conversations and distractions, my AiO playtest group had their characters made within an hour or two.

If you do want to speed this up, there are a couple of things you can do. You can tell your players to make their characters before the meeting. Make sure they have access to you and the rulebook. Make sure there's communication and each player knows roughly what the other players are doing.

Another thing you can do is to make up characters in advance. That way, when your players show up, they can be ready to play very quickly. Make a few more characters than you have players. That way, each player has a choice to make and won't get stuck with a character they may not like.

Once everyone is situated and satisfied with their character, you're ready to begin playing. This consists of you, The Narrator, describing the situation that the characters find themselves in. Ideally, you also give them something fairly immediate to do. This doesn't have to be exciting, adventurous stuff, but it certainly can be.

For example, you decide to start the scenario with Ozma's birthday party. You might want to take a minute to describe the festivities and who is in attendance. Then something happens that at least one character has to respond to. Maybe one of the characters is called upon to give a toast to Princess Ozma. Or maybe the Winged Monkeys fly in to ruin the party.

Now let your players respond to the situation you've presented. What sort of toast do they come up with? How do they respond to the Winged Monkeys? Do they interact with any of the other party guests?

As they're responding to your scenario, think about the actions they are describing. Do any of them make you want to say "I don't know if he can do that" or "There's no way he can do that!"? If so, find the appropriate skill and tell the player to make a skill roll (make sure you've got dice handy!). If one of the players decided to pluck one of the Monkeys out of the air, call for an Athletics roll. If someone wants to frighten them off, it's a Presence roll. If the action seems difficult, give it a penalty. If the action is fairly easy or appropriate, a bonus is suggested.

Keep this cycle going, describing how the scenario changes as a result of the characters' actions, successes, and failures, and giving them things to respond to. By the time you're done, you've got yourself an Oz story that didn't exist before, created on the fly by your group.

That wasn't so hard, now was it?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A year and a half of Oz

It seems something of a tradition for me to look back on my accomplishments on the blog and the game every six months, and I'd hate to disappoint myself, so here goes.

Most notably, I missed my release date. I had intended to release the game on Ozma's birthday, August 21st. Unfortunately, that's about the time that I actually finished writing the game. When I first started this project, I had anticipated about 3 months of work, with a release in the fall of last year. I'm actually glad that it took longer than that. I've made friends and acquaintances over the last year and a half (heck, even over the last six months) that have helped enormously, teaching me all sorts of things about game design, being a Narrator, and being Ozzy. One of my players, the inestimable Kris "Fishgod" Newton, even wrote an awesome adventure for inclusion in the book. So while you may be waiting a while to get your hands on it, it will definitely be worth the wait.

If all goes well, the game should be released this month, maybe next. I have seen some of the early layout work and it looks good.

On the plus side, I've been getting some good publicity lately. Jared interviewed me for his podcast and I got a favorable mention on the Out of Character podcast. My brother got my message out at PAX, though he was only able to hand out one business card. Once he sends them to me, I might even put up pictures of all the awesome people he met that you've all never heard of.

Also, over the last month, I've been conducting a little bit of market research to figure out what my readership wants out of me. And my readership seems to want two things: Wrestling, and a setting supplement for Oz. I was surprised that the adventure supplement didn't do as well in the poll. Maybe because I didn't give it a very catchy name. I'll have to work on that. Or maybe because a lot of you are more Oz fans than gamers and don't have an idea of the value of a scenario book.

I know where the wrestling votes came from (at least 3 of them, anyway). Though it does mean that I'm going to have to watch some wrestling, it is something that does hold some interest for me. As I said, most RPGs combat rules are designed around the concept of hit point attrition, or "keep whacking them until they fall down" much like a video game. I don't see wrestling as being much like that, so it would have to be a unique system.

Just so you know, the poll should not be construed as a definitive statement as to what I will develop next. It will be a factor, but not the only one. There's also the question of the research I would have to conduct and where my energy and interests lie.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Everyone Has An Agenda

Everyone should, anyway.

In a roleplaying game, the Narrator is the obvious example of someone with an agenda. If the Narrator doesn't have something to present to the players, then the game doesn't happen. Whether it's a villainous plot by the Nome King or some new corner of Oz to explore, the Narrator needs to have some kind of plan in order for the game to move forward.

In my experience, a lot of players come to the table without an agenda. I find this very frustrating as a Narrator, since that means I have to be not only the ringmaster, but the circus as well (how's that for a metaphor?). When I've brought this up, these players have waffled, claiming that they didn't know the rules or the world well enough to do that sort of thing. So perhaps it can be chalked up to comfort level.

Agendas don't have to be big, though. In fact, the best ones are small ones. No need to sign up your character for an epic quest for the one-armed man who stole your magic sword every time you play. Just find some small way to express your character in every scene.

A good example of this would be Corbin the Bear from my Adventures in Oz playtest. His agenda was formality. Everything had to be done in the proper way. Exactly what this way was often wound up being very humorous and enriched play greatly.

In the game I'm currently running (not Oz, unfortunately) one of the characters is a mental patient who found himself in charge of the asylum. As he undertakes his adventures, he tries to psychoanalyze everyone he meets. When the group gets into fights, this character distracts opponents by asking them about their mothers and things like that.

Update on the poll: Adventures in Oz: Beyond the Deadly Desert was in the lead for a day or two, but now it's tied with Real Raw Wrestling. Just 7 days left to vote!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Inspirations

Who are the two people who inspired me to become a game publisher? Interestingly enough, neither of them was named Baum.

The first was Tom Smith, the World's Fastest Filker. Sounds like an odd choice, doesn't it? Maybe this will help clear things up. In March of last year, the restaurant I had been working at for the previous 8 years went under. It wasn't the drudgery that Tom Smith experienced in the mortgage industry, but the subsequent layoff (just a few months after Tom released that song) gave me free time and the impetus to change my life.

It also helped set up my expectations of success. If I'm able to support myself and do something nice for myself and my fiancee every so often, I'm doing well.

The second one was Aldo Ghiozzi of Impressions Advertising and Marketing. He spoke at a seminar on breaking into the gaming industry at DunDraCon 32 (just one month before my layoff). His advice was cynical. He said, (I'm paraphrasing here) "There's no guarantee your game will succeed in the marketplace. In fact, it probably won't. But you'll never know until you try."

So, without a job and not much else to lose, I proceeded to try. I have since gained employment, which gave me more money, but less time. I'm still trying, though. And I'll keep trying as long as I can pay freelance artists to illustrate whatever it is that I write.

Keep voting on the poll, guys! Everything's got at least one vote, but Real Raw Wrestling and Better Than Rifts are leading the pack with three votes each.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I has a podcast, part 2!

This one doesn't have me in it, but they do take some time talking about Adventures in Oz. Thank you to Jason Corley, who has been one of my playtesters.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Barnstorming Oz

I recently had a chance to catch up on some reading and picked up A Barnstormer in Oz by Phillip Jose Farmer. This is actually the first time that I'd read this book, though I have read some of Farmer's other work in the past.

Farmer, being a science fiction writer, takes a shot at justifying some of the events of Wizard science-fictionally. It has a lot to do with electrical phenomena, from the space-time rip that lands Frank Stover, Dorothy's son, in Oz to the Wicked Witches.

The core idea revolves around a peculiar type of ball lightning that Farmer calls "firefoxes." Farmer's hero, Frank Stover, deduces that they are actually a form of bodiless mind. These firefoxes are what animates the curious characters of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and allows the animals of Oz to talk. Once they take on a body, they lose any memory or previous personality, so no spoiling the big surprises early

They are also used by Witches to extend their own lifespans. Unfortunately, this replaces the chemical bonds that hold them together with much weaker electrical bonds that can be disrupted by, say, a massive impact or a bucket of water.

Farmer studiously avoids tackling any other major oddities from the stories. For one thing, he has the main character dismiss the Oz stories after the first. This may have been Farmer inserting his own voice to say that Baum was a "hack", or because the other books were still under copyright with only Wizard in the public domain. It could also simply be that he focused only on those things that supported his firefox scenario. He even dismissed the China Country as something that Baum probably made up and added to the "true" story of his mother's original adventure in Oz. (You knew that was coming, didn't you?)

The story itself revolves around Frank's journey into Oz via an electrical phenomena and how he winds up fighting a war against the new Wicked Witch of the North. He also tries to keep the US Army (who have been developing the ability to manufacture the atmospheric phenomena that allows transit) out of Oz and results in the magical assassination of the President by Glinda.

It struck me as rather odd that although Farmer explains that the people of Oz originally came from Earth, they've all shrunk down to about 3 feet tall. This didn't happen all at once, but each generation was slightly shorter than the one before it.

My preferred solution is to assume that Dorothy is between 10 and 13 years old at the time of her arrival in Oz and undergoing a pubescent growth spurt (Although her age is not given in the story, Dorothy is noted as being tall for it). This would allow the Munchkins to be merely short, rather than midgets. It would also explain why some Munchkins seem to be normal-sized, or at least make the fact that the height issue was not carried into later books less jarring.

Keep voting, guys! As of this posting, Real Raw Wrestling is in the lead with 3 votes, with Beyond the Deadly Desert at second place with one vote. Only 22 days left to make your voice heard!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Don't Stop Now!

Now that Adventures in Oz is in the hands of other people (editing, layout and such), I am recalling a bit of writing advice I picked up some time ago: Don't stop writing. Especially with my realistic (read cynical) outlook on life, I should not expect to be resting on my laurels with only one product to my name.

But what's next? After a little thought, I've come up with a few ideas. In no particular order, they are:

Real Raw Wrestling: This was proposed to me some time ago and the idea is interesting. Especially since most wrestling RPGs that I've heard of rely on hit point attrition rather than modeling how wrestlers actually fight. As you can tell by my work on Oz, working out alternate combat systems is a fun challenge for me.

Better Than Rifts: For those of you unfamiliar with Rifts, it is a monster of an RPG. The rules themselves are crude, artifacts of an earlier time that haven't been updated in almost 20 years. But the setting itself is a wonderful, anything-goes madhouse. My goal here would be to create a rules system that can handle all of the gonzo joy of Rifts (the original rules really didn't do that good of a job) while actually appealing to the modern gamer.

Adventures in Oz: Adventure Supplement #1: This would be a book full of scenarios for an AiO Narrator who may not have the time to develop a fully fleshed scenario on their own or just needs a little kick to the imagination.

Adventures in Oz: Beyond the Deadly Desert: This would be a setting supplement for AiO. In the main book, I focus primarily on the land of Oz itself. This one would focus on the other lands of the Nonestic continent, such as Ev, Mo, The Nome Kingdom and others.

What do you guys think? Take the poll!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I has a podcast!

Well, technically it's Jared's podcast, but I got to be on it. He interviewed me a few weeks ago and got it edited to a point fit for human consumption yesterday.

On the one hand, it was largely what I expected: I wound up playing ambassador from the gaming world to the Oz world. On the other hand, I feel like I should have been more prepared. I was very nervous and rambled a good bit.

Having gotten that experience now, I'm thinking it might be fun to do a podcast of my own. But the blog here has quite a bit of what I'm trying to say about Oz and gaming already. Should I do more of the same, but in convenient audio format? Or is there something else you'd like to hear?

Oz in the Emerald City!

Adventures in Oz is going to PAX!

Unfortunately, it is doing so without me. With my job and other responsibilities, I can't really get away to do something that crazy. That's what family is for.

My brother is attending the convention as his honeymoon. I have sent him and his wife Adventures in Oz logo t-shirts as wedding presents. They will be wearing the shirts through the convention weekend to drum up buzz and interest in the game.

If you see him there, please be kind. He is on his honeymoon and trying to enjoy the Expo like everyone else. I'm the RPG and Oz guy, he's more of a video gamer. If there's anything you want to know about the game that he can't answer (which might be a lot), he does have a stack of business cards to hand out which direct you to me.

If you're reading this after PAX because you've picked up one of those business cards, I will direct you to my list of asked questions. If you need to know something that isn't covered there, feel free to ask in a comment on that post, this post or the email address on the card. If it comes up enough, it might turn up on the questions list.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Indie Jones

No, not that Indy Jones.

Just about everyone has heard of indie films, movies made on small budgets by unknown companies that manage to be a little more daring and avant-garde in their stories. But not many people know about the indie RPG scene. Like those indie filmmakers, indie RPG publishers push the boundaries of what makes a game.

While opinions differ (significantly in some cases, so be careful out there!), my understanding is that "traditional" games focus on representing the world, providing "reality models", much like the physics engine in a video game. They vary widely in how much resolution the system provides. Some of try to stay very close to reality, like GURPS, while most feature some level of "cinematic" or action movie-style realism, like the HERO system or Fuzion. The main advantage of a system like this is that it can be applied to a wide variety of worlds because the rules are generally applicable.

Indie games have rules that emphasize story and character over the world.

FATE and Burning Wheel are both excellent games that focus on characters. Both reward players for making decisions that are "in-character" even if it isn't the most practical or effective decision. While White Wolf is one of the major players in the RPG industry, it was one of the pioneers of this methodology, as characters in their game Vampire: The Masquerade had a Humanity score that would rise and fall based on the things that the character was forced to do to maintain their vampiric existence.

The games that focus on story tend toward telling a certain story with near-endless variation. My Life With Master gives players the roles of minions to a cruel and wicked Master (Suddenly, I'm thinking of running this game with the players being Winged Monkeys and the Master is the Wicked Witch of the West). The players then direct their characters through the process of discovering that not everyone is cruel and eventually overthrowing and escaping from the Master.

Adventures in Oz fits my definition of an indie game. For one, it is very much a one man show (me) with a minimal budget. For another, the game is designed from the ground up to tell Ozzy stories. If I had to define the archetypal Oz story in a sentence, it would be "Exploring Oz with your friends." The exploration aspect is covered in the extensive section on the Land of Oz, along with tips on making your own Ozzy locations to explore. The friendship angle is covered with the Oz Point/Friends List mechanic. Making new friends or helping friends that you already have earn Oz Points, which can then be used to get a favor from a friend on your list.

What's your definition of "indie"? What's you're favorite indie game?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ozma!

Tomorrow, August 21st, is generally considered to be Princess Ozma's birthday. In a manner of speaking, it might even be considered her 100th birthday. Even though the character was introduced in 1904's The Marvelous Land of Oz, we don't see her birthday celebrated until 1909's The Road to Oz. Since Road is celebrating it's 100th year, that would make 2009 the 100 anniversary of Ozma's birthday. It's circuitous and momentous at the same time.

While I did mention doing some kind of video, getting the finishing touches on the game has taken a good bit of energy on my part. Only within the last few days could I really consider myself done with the project. And even then, the project is not done. While I have concluded my writing duties, it still needs to go past my editor, then my layout person. If my layout person is doing their job right, they will spot locations where I need illustrations. Which means I will have to commission new pieces, which will take more time before the book can be released.

It is also time to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the premiere of the MGM film "The Wizard of Oz." On August 23, 1939, this classic film premiered in theaters across the country. While the movie does get props from me for introducing a lot of people to Oz over the years, it presents a very limited version of Oz. What's worse is that people tend to think that the movie is all that there really is of Oz. And the majority of adaptations and "sequels" tend to support this idea.

In slightly related news, Loraine Sammy has both of pieces of cover art that I commissioned posted on her site. One is for my game and the other is for my edition of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." Seeing both of them together makes it fairly easy to see what I did there.

One of the big challenges I'm facing in making this game successful is that there are really two audiences that I'm trying to reach out to: The Oz audience and the non-Oz audience. The game cover art is really an attempt to reach out to both. Each character in the illustration is similar in concept or role to one of the classic four Oz characters (Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion), but different enough that the non-Oz fan is going to look twice. Since they are established characters from later stories, the Oz fans get a little Easter egg that makes them look twice.

Having the cover art for the story be so similar helps reinforce that "Oz, but different" vibe and also serves as a bit of branding, letting readers know that they are from the same publisher.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Asked Questions

Now, I am nowhere near as cool as Jared, but people do ask me questions about Adventures in Oz.

When it is released, what form will Adventures in Oz take?

It will be released both as a softcover book and a PDF on The book will contain rules for creating and playing your own Oz characters, being the Narrator of a roleplaying game, and an extensive guide to L. Frank Baum's Oz, complete with suggestions for making your own stories and locales within the land of Oz. The PDF will contain all of this information in a highly portable electronic format.

My goal is also to make the game available wherever quality gaming PDFs are sold.

How much will it cost?

The book will sell for $14.99 and the PDF will be $7.99

What age group are you targeting with your game?

I have designed the game so that it should be playable by virtually any age. It will be marketed as a kids RPG, but my playtest group was composed of people all in their 20's and we had a lot of fun.

Do you have anything else in the works?

Indeed I do. I hope to publish my own edition of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" as illustrated by my talented team of artists by the end of the year. Also in the works is a cooperative effort between myself and James Wallace, bringing the characters and locations of his book "The Magician of Oz" to your gaming table.

Farther out, I'd like to do a supplement detailing the lands beyond Oz, such as Sky Island and the Land of Mo, and a book of adventures for those Narrators with limited time to prepare their own.

I haven't read the books, but I love the MGM movie. Will I enjoy your game?

I certainly hope so. I include a lot of information from the stories, so you shouldn't feel too left out. You might even be inspired to track down and read some of the stories.

I haven't played an RPG before. What am I missing out on?

But nearly everyone has played a role as part of some kind of game. When we were younger, we all played some kind of pretending games. The rules of the Adventures in Oz game are there to provide a more structured experience and to resolve questions that can arise during play, such as putting an end to the old "Cops and Robbers" arguments of "I shot you!" "No you didn't!"

You will need at least two six-sided dice (the kind found in most board games) and each player should have a piece of paper recording their character's abilities and other details.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oz on Zazzle!

As of today, you will be able to purchase products featuring the Adventures in Oz cover art and logo over at Not only are they great products, but the profits from those sales help me pay the artists and other people who help me make the game a reality.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

In our last episode...

When I compared Oz to Star Trek a couple months ago, there was one very important thing I left out. I didn't realize what it was until I read this Grognardia blog (Thanks for the link, Groknard).

One of the things that captured the imaginations of millions for both Oz and Star Trek was the lack of continuity. You didn't have to follow the series to enjoy it. You could watch any episode or read any story in any order and be able to enjoy them.

If there was something you needed to know from a previous installment, you were told very quickly or it was simply glossed over. The Patchwork Girl's origin story was not rehashed in every story she appeared in. She would simply appear, perhaps with a small explanatory note, and the story would proceed.

Later Trek shows built on these original stories, but lost this simple charm. They developed a more stringent continuity, requiring the viewer to follow the show more closely. Deep Space Nine in later seasons became very soap-opera-ish in terms of continuity.

Oz fan writers often do much the same thing. They will write "sequel" or "follow-up" stories that refer to something from the old books and assume that the reader already knows what's going on. While I am not going to say that all such "sequels" are bad, I will say that they are rather difficult to do well.

How does this apply to gaming? Well, back in the day, RPGs followed a very similar format. Not by design, but by a lack of design. Early roleplayers basically treated their characters like golf clubs, choosing one to play based on the needs of the current dungeon. "4th level? You guys need a priest? Got one right here."

Much like television, gaming has expanded to include ongoing campaigns with elaborate storylines and a cast of recurring characters. Also like television, this serves to separate those who got in from the beginning and "get it" from those who are just starting out, trying to get involved later on. This has the side effect of making roleplaying very intimidating to new players. If you haven't been playing for several years or have the latest edition of the rulebooks and know the game world inside and out, there are people who will not give you the time of day. The books themselves have become larger and more expensive, a far cry from the simple booklets of yesteryear.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Adventure Begins With You!

This week marks the unveiling of the cover art of the game and the new slogan: "The Adventure Begins With You!"

Wouldn't that make it an "Udventure"? Seriously though, roleplaying is an active hobby. Not in the running and jumping kind of way, but it does demand participation. A book is just a book until you apply your mind to it. So it is with a roleplaying game. Moreso, in fact, as you apply your imagination and creativity to playing your character.

While it is possible to play your character "by the numbers", it's not a lot of fun. By speaking in character (with or without funny accent) or developing personal goals, you make your play experience several times better. If everyone does it, the fun of the game increases exponentially.

A beta version of the game is will be available at until the final game is released (Hopefully in the next couple of months). Grab some friends, make some characters and build a story out of your favorite Oz novel.

(Bonus points if you can See What I Did There (TM)).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Game Balance

One of the slipperiest concepts in game design is that of balance. It actually comes in two flavors, so I'm going to discuss them separately.

The first component is character balance. When dealing with multiple characters or character types, each one should have something different and interesting to recommend it. But at the same time, if an option is too good, you've made all of the other options look bad by comparison.

This is the problem I ran into with my first draft magic system. Magic was too effective and too easy to do. If things got tough, the sorcerer could simply cast a spell and the problem would be solved. While you could argue that that's how the Oz stories work, it's not very fun in a game. Every player wants their "spotlight time", the chance to do something cool that only they can do, or only they can do well. To have a wizard in the party would mean that everyone else would pale in comparison. Hopefully, the redesign closed this gap.

While balance should be on the mind of every designer, it should also be part of the Game Master's responsibility. Make sure that each character that a player proposes is unique and interesting and doesn't step on another character's niche or schtick. Make sure that challenging one character doesn't mean invalidating other characters.

The next part of game balance is scenario balance. This means balancing the challenges that a character will face against their abilities. A well balanced scenario is one that makes the players work for their success, but avoids making it impossible. If a particular challenge is too hard, players will give up in frustration. If a challenge is too easy, players feel like their success was handed to them. I'm sure we've all played enough video games to appreciate that feeling of beating a boss battle once we'd figured out how to fight him. Same basic principle.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fantastic Racism

There's enough racism going on in the real world; do we really need racism in our fantasy? But there it is. Whether people are pointing out the differences between elves and orcs or exactly what horrible practices make the Evil Empire so evil, it's all about who's better than who because of ethnic affiliations.

Oz is surprisingly un-racist. While most of the heroes are Caucasian, no one is looked down upon due to their physical nature. The Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow were both valued friends of Dorothy during her original adventure and long afterward. The bad guys are never representative of their fellows. Ugu the Shoemaker was not a typical Herku. The Su-Dic of the Flatheads is more tolerated than loved by his people.

The most racist parts of Oz lore are incredibly tame. In "The Patchwork Girl of Oz", Ojo is subjected to a "ragtime" song in which the singer wails for his "coal-black Lulu". Later in the story, Dorothy, Ojo and company meet the Hottentots, who are playful little people who are intended to resemble African tribesmen. In the Books of Wonder edition of this book, "coal black Lulu" is simply "cross-eyed" and the Hottentots receive much less description and no illustration. Surprisingly tame stuff. I found "The Woggle-Bug Book" more offensive.

Racism does tend to turn up in the fantasy film industry quite often. Not in obvious ways, of course. Remember "Kung Fu Panda"? The backdrop was ancient China, the older characters (Po's father and the ancient kung fu master) had very Asian-sounding voices, but the hero of the film was Jack Black. Not just voiced by Jack Black, but the character was very much Jack Black, to the point of using the word (if word it be) "bodacity."

Apparently, someone in Hollywood thinks that we can't empathize with a hero unless he's "American." Notice that Jackie Chan is almost never the lone star of his American-made films. He is typically paired with an American actor, like Owen Wilson or Chris Tucker.

Some of you might be aware, the popular Nickelodeon animated series "Avatar: The Last Airbender" is being made into a live action film. Well, it seems that they're making a similar move, casting Caucasian actors in "heroic" roles while giving the villain role to an ethnic actor. While the characters are of different ethnicity on the show, it's nowhere near as glaring, as the two ethnicities are much more closely related.

Check out for more info and the latest details on this controversy.

Friday, July 3, 2009

America's Fairyland

I'm actually trying not to blog about Michael Jackson this week. Everyone else seems to be saying what there is to be said about it. Almost makes me wish Farrah Fawcett had an Oz connection. For those who are easily distracted, Farrah Fawcett died the same day.

In case you were unaware, Micheal Jackson played the Scarecrow in the movie version of "The Wiz". This leaves only Lena Horne and Diana Ross as the surviving stars of this film. Lena Horne is somewhat surprising, as she is currently in her 90's.

With Independence Day approaching here in the US, Many Americans are thinking all things American.

Oz has been dubbed "America's Fairlyland" and it's true. Of all the fairylands out there, Oz was the only one created in America. Most of Disney's animated films are based on distinctly European fairy tales. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are both creations of the Brothers Grimm, who were German. The Little Mermaid was the creation of a Danish man, Hans Christian Anderson. Middle Earth, Narnia, and Hogwarts were all created over in the UK.

While there are certainly other notable American fantasists, very few have managed the appeal and longevity of L. Frank Baum and his Oz stories.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I'm Late! I'm Late! For a Very Important Date!

First late blog entry in quite a while. I also missed last week's art update, too. Things are just slowing to a crawl here at F. Douglas Wall HQ.

The big delay is the Narrator's portion of the book. For one thing, my SneakerNet (JFGI) crashed a while ago, so my time to actually write is somewhat limited. Also, I've never written Narrator advice before. To a degree, it's like writing down how to ride a bicycle. Just because you can do it doesn't mean that you can readily explain it using only words.

The next challenge is that I'm not sure who I'm writing this for. Is it for Bill Walton, who's been running RPGs with his kids for quite a while and just needs a few tips to keep it Ozzy? Or is it for Jared, an Oz fan in long stading who has never played an RPG in his life?

I'm working through it, and I am seeing light at the end of the tunnel. However, it might mean an ultimate delay in the release of the game. My current plan relied on all of my content being generated by the end of June, a deadline that is looming on the horizon. Depending on how fast I can make it up, I might have time to get the book laid out in August, just before my publication goal.

Either way, I'm working on a new YouTube video as a birthday tribute for Ozma. Even if I don't get the game out on her birthday, there will be an Ozma's birthday treat for you all.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I want my Free RPG!

Just a reminder that June 20th is Free RPG Day and game and comic stores around the country will be stocked with free quickstarts of new games and free adventures for games you might already have. If you've been intimidated by the price of RPGs these days, or just want to try before you buy, here's a great opportunity. Check the store locator to see if a game store in your area is participating. If your favorite game or hobby shop is not participating, tell them "I want my Free RPG!" This is an annual event, so there is a good chance that your retailer will get the message and sign up for next year.

I would love to have participated this year, but I am very much a one-man-band here and can only do so much. I'm going to try to have something for next year.

Yesterday, Oz blogger Jared Davis celebrated his birthday. Happy birthday, Jared!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

What am I supposed to do with all of this?

Well, I've been blogging for over a year now but I haven't really answered one of the most basic questions my readers may have: What the heck is an RPG and how do you play one?

In a roleplaying game, each player controls a single character. This character is defined by a set of stats, traits, or abilities written down on a piece of paper. More modern games typically include personality traits of some kind, giving you an idea of not only how strong or fast a character is, but how they are likely to respond in given situations.

The Game Master (a generic term. Adventures in Oz uses "Narrator") presents the players with a scenario and adjudicates their responses. They do this with a mix of die rolls, judgment and common sense.

For example,

Game Master: Your house has just crashed down after being lifted away by a Kansas twister. You hear some voices outside. What do you do?


Okay, seriously now

Game Master: Your house has just crashed down after being lifted away by a Kansas twister. You hear some voices outside. What do you do?

Player: What are the voices saying?

GM: You can't really tell. Make an Awareness roll.

Player: Let's see. I've got Awareness 3. (rolls dice) 1 and 4. Looks like a regular success to me.

GM: You don't know exactly what they're saying, but there are a few very nervous male voices and a reassuring female voice. It sounds like she's in charge.

Player: Oh good. I'll step out and introduce myself.

GM: There are 3 men and one old woman. At least you think so. Even though two of the men have beards and the woman looks quite old, they're all only about as tall as you. As you approach, the old woman steps forward and says "You are welcome, most noble Sorceress, to the land of the Munchkins. We are so grateful to you for having killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and for setting our people free from bondage."

Player: Woah. First of all, my character's, like, maybe 10 years old, so these people have to be pretty short. And who did I kill? This isn't like the last game you ran where I woke up with amnesia and I found out I was some kind of CIA hitman, is it? I'll tell her, "You are very kind, but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything."

GM: She replies "Your house did, anyway, and that is the same thing. See! There are her two feet, still sticking out from under a block of wood." She points at something under your house. Sure enough, there are two feet sticking out wearing silver shoes. And it looks like your house squashed the rest of her flat.

Player: Holy crap! So it's not like I can pick up the house and free her, huh?

GM: Nope. Since you're a little girl and only Size 2, and the house is Size 5, that's a -3 penalty to your Athletics skill.

Player: And I've only got Athletics 2. With that penalty, I'm at less than zero. Right, no chance.

(For an embellished Actual Play log of the rest of this session, check it out here.)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Empowering Fantasy

Many people think of RPGs as a form of "power fantasy", in which the goal is to be awesome and powerful. This is an easy assumption to make, since many RPGs allow characters to wield magic, psychic powers or the Force or play with awesome futuristic technology. Sometimes all at once.

But then you get little oddities, typically in horror games. Both Call of Chthulhu and World of Darkness (without splats) feature characters that are remarkably mundane. In CoC, characters can learn magic, but only at the cost of their sanity. Even specific campaigns can create this effect. Over on the Steve Jackson Games forums, William H. Stoddard and one of his players will recount a game they played in the Transhuman Space setting in which the characters were marvelously mundane people and the game was all about the drama of ordinary people living in a very big, scary, technologically advanced world. No heroics, no earth-shattering revelations, just people leading very complicated lives.

Where's the fun in that sort of thing? Where's the epic awesome? You're not going to find it. Because when you get down to it, roleplaying is not "power fantasy", but "empowerment fantasy." Action oriented games allow us to play the hero, letting us be the one who saves the world, slays the dragon, and wins the heart of a princess. In more mundane genres, we might simply acheive a cathartic "safe space" in which we may explore things that we can't do in real life. Much like a horror movie, a horror RPG lets us experience the horror from a safe distance, allowing us to walk away at the end of the show and laugh about it. A dramatic game can also benefit from this, as an unmarried player might try out married life and its trials and tribulations. The player can make all the mistakes he wants in the scenario with the knowledge that he can get up from the gaming table and be his freewheeling, single self again.

Exalted is a game that actually plays both sides of this fence. Characters wield charms and spells that make them quite powerful, playing neatly into power fantasy. But because of this level of power, characters are very much their own masters. Which can make the experience rather empowering, as well.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tis better to give than to recieve

I had mentioned to James Wallace in an email that it might be a good marketing move to donate money based on sales of the game to the Humboldt Literacy Project, a non-profit in my area that helps adults learn to read. You know, the more I sell the more I give. And as a limited time promotion around the holidays to really drum up the sales.

If you haven't figured it out by now, I live in California. As in the state that is having a major budget crisis right now. Just last week, a special election for a few propositions that were deemed necessary to get the budget balanced this year (or next year, I'm not quite sure). All but one of them failed. Meaning that lots of cuts are going to have to be made and a lot of programs around the state are going to be hurting.

So now I'm looking to revise my plan. First off, it's not just a holiday promotion. It will be a regular thing. We've really got to break out of the whole "Christmastime is the season of giving" rut that keeps us from doing stuff like that at other times of the year. I might do something around Christmastime, but we'll see.

I also plan on giving within my local community, rather than to a state or national organization. This is because I think local giving has a bit more of a visible impact. Rather than dividing up your dollar into pennies (or less than pennies) to divide among the hundreds of projects, divisions, and people that they support, your dollar is more likely to go (more or less completely) to something that does an immediate good in the community.

The big challenge is who to give this money that I will be collecting to. Schools are an obvious choice and libraries tie in thematically, since I'll be selling books to raise the money. But police and fire services will be impacted as well, so giving to the Eureka Police Foundation would also be worthwhile. What do you guys think?

New on the Gallery: The Scarecrow by Brad McDevitt.

Edit: I read in my local paper yesterday that my local zoo may not be able to maintain the educational programs that it needs to maintain its accreditation due to the budget crunch. One more worthy cause?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I almost forgot

One thing that I keep having to remind myself of is that this is not an Oz blog or a gaming blog. I'm having fun blogging about both of those things, believe me, but it's not the only reason I'm here. I also came here to sell you something.

Adventures in Oz: The Roleplaying Game is coming soon. My target release date is August 21st, in order to correspond to Princess Ozma's birthday. While it looks like I've got most of the heavy lifting done, the little details are looking pretty scary right now. But then, I've got 3 months to go.

In order to drum up traffic and interest in the official Adventures in Oz website, I've started posting illustrations from the game. Every Thursday (same as the blog) I put up a new picture in the gallery. Some of it has already been featured here on the blog but there's also some fun new stuff, like the very lovely Red Reera the Yookoohoo. I feel particularly silly because I've been doing this for about a month and forgot to mention it here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!

If L. Frank Baum had lived to see today, he would be 153 years old. If I had time, I would have something clever to say or do in this space. All I can really do right now is recommend you to Jared's blog for his always-fun birthday tribute. If anyone knows of any more fun sites celebrating L. Frank Baum's life, please feel free to link them in the comments.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Boldly Going... to Oz!

After reading Jared's blog, and then this one by Adam Dickstein, I am am now compelled to share this with you.

When my gaming group first consented to try Adventures in Oz, I was ecstatic. The rules would get a thorough playtesting by some of the best players I could muster. However, this meant that I had to come up with stories to put them through. Frantically turning to my Big Shelf O' RPGs (maybe once I get a working camera again, I'll take a picture of how big my collection really is), my eyes light upon my collection of Star Trek RPGs.

To my knowledge, I have every Star Trek RPG ever published. Not every supplement or adventure, but at least the main book for each. I've got the FASA RPG that came in a box. I've got each of the Last Unicorn Games Star Trek books. They did one main rulebook for the Original Series, the Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine. They intended to produce one for Voyager, but the company collapsed before that could happen. I've also got the complete line of Decipher Star Trek hardcovers. There were some books that were published on PDF, but I'm not a fan of PDF in general.

Okay, now that I'm done with the bragging, let's get on with things. The thing that really ties the two franchises together is the idea of exploring the unusual. Star Trek does it intentionally, while Dorothy does it almost accidentally.

The Enterprise's mission is to "explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and civilizations", so it's no surprise that the beloved starship did just that. Each week was a new story with a new planet, a new race of people, or some new phenomena.

Dorothy's exploration was not because she was necessarily looking for it, but because so many things happened to be in her way as she was going somewhere else. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is just looking for a way home and find her way to the Emerald City. It's just that on her way there, she happened to make some friends and have some adventures. In The Emerald City of Oz, Dorothy wanders away from camp briefly and gets captured by the Spoon Brigade of Utensia. Once she is released, she then tried to find the camp again, but wanders into Bunbury and Bunnybury.

The crew of the Enterprise is a bunch of meddlers. Every episode, they try to fix something or solve some mystery or destroy the computer that was running a civilization just fine before they showed up. Dorothy and her friends, however, don't feel the need to meddle much. They will from time to time, but for the most part they are simply passing through on their way somewhere else. Once they get where they're going, however, they feel free to meddle away.

In The Scarecrow of Oz, Trot and Cap'n Bill did not try to reform Ork society, or solve the mystery of why it snowed popcorn in the land of Mo. But once they got to Jinxland, they staged a royal coup, changing the balance of power forever.

This is not always the case, as demonstrated by Dorothy's visit to Bunnybury in The Emerald City of Oz. Her interaction with the King of Bunnybury, though minor, was just enough to help the king be content with his royal lifestyle.

In a gaming scenario, I think the Star Trek model of one new place per adventure would probably work best. It's what I've done in my Oz playtest game. In part because when you introduce something into an RPG, the players are expecting to be able to play with it. Players have been known to spend half an hour on something that the GM has simply intended as a color detail. Putting an interesting person or community in the game and expecting the players to simply ask for directions or spend the night and move on the next morning is simply madness.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Railroad and the Sandbox

One of the "swear words" of the gaming hobby is "railroading". In a game where any action should be possible, being forced to follow a specific path (a "train track", if you will) can be highly frustrating. Especially when freedom of action is a big selling point for the game and character-based decisions are viewed as just as valid as game-based ones.

I believe the computer game equivalent is called "pixel-bitching" or "pixel-hunting", in which a player has to execute a very specific sequence of events or locate an item in-game that is only a few pixels across and therefore very easy to miss.

A related issue in gaming is "illusionism". Since the GM isn't a computer and can change things to suit his moods, he will sometimes do this to the detriment of the story and the play experience. There are situations where this is valid. For example, the GM may design his story so that the players need some background on the Yip Country and makes Frogman available to provide this information. But one of the players decides that he or his character is repulsed by frogs and doesn't want to deal with Frogman. So the GM decides that Cayke the Cookie Cook is visiting the Emerald City right then and is able to fill them in on what they need.

Sounds like the GM just saved the story, right? In that case, yes. For an example of how this can go wrong, let's consider the classic dilemma of the lady and the tiger. The players are faced with two doors. They know that one of the doors has a prize for them (the lady in the metaphor) while the other has a horrible monster behind it (our tiger). The GM could decide that the lady is behind the door on the left and the tiger is behind the door on the right and let the dust fall where it may. The illusionist GM could decide that whichever door they open, the players will get the lady (because they worked so hard to get to this point in the story, they deserve something good) or the tiger (because they were all a bunch of jerks who didn't chip in for pizza this week, or maybe just because they love a big fight scene against impossible odds).

This really weakens the drama of the story once the players realize that the choice wasn't really theirs to make. They will lose faith in the GM, lose their respect for setting, and overall not enjoy the game all that much anymore.

Now we get to play in the "sandbox". Made popular by "open-world" video games like the Grand Theft Auto series, the "sandbox" RPG encourages the characters to define and pursue their own goals. The "traditional" model states that the plot typically flows from the GM to the players, who respond to events as they see fit. The "sandbox" style of play gives players more freedom to create their own objectives in the game and encourages the GM to give these goals a reasonable chance of happening.

The GM has to be on his toes as well, as players will feel much freer to try things they would not otherwise do. Also, players will be much more interested if the GM puts some of the supporting cast in the way of their goals, giving them a challenge to overcome. It also creates the feeling that the world "lives" in its own way, rather than simply being a place where plot happens.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dying is easy, Comedy is hard

Last week's entry was a distillation of a good bit of research into the soul of comedy gaming.

It started with the ninjas. The jokes were flying fast and furious around the gaming table, some of them at my instigation. As I was browsing the forums on, I found a thread which had people recount their funniest gaming moments. There were a few good ones, but then one fellow jumped in with something like "Comedy gaming is fun for a one-shot, but make sure to kill all the characters so you can do something serious next week." Which makes sense for Paranoia (which I placed in the "joke game" category last week), but not for what I was trying to do by incorporating comedic elements into the setting of a continuing game.

That's when I turned to GURPS Discworld, the officially licensed roleplaying game of Terry Pratchett's Discworld stories. For those of you familiar with GURPS, you might be thinking "Why is such a crunchy and realistic rules system being used for a comedic setting?" A couple reasons were mentioned in the book itself. What it generally boils down to is "Not everything is a joke." When someone stabs you with a sword, it hurts A LOT, which suits the realistic tone of GURPS quite well. While the fellow may be trying to stab you for a funny reason (explained only in footnotes), it still stands a very good chance of killing you (at which point, you get to meet Death, who's not a bad guy all 'round).

That was my first big realization: The only way for comedy to be sustained is if not everything is a joke. If the players of the game have a serious interest in what their characters are doing, they will want to continue to play. Most people didn't tune in to "Friends" because all the jokes were that funny, but to keep up with the character and relationship drama. The jokes were just icing on the cake, really.

The next step also came from RPG. net. On a thread regarding horrible experiences playing at a convention, one poster recounted a scenario he played in once that required the characters to re-enact the punchline to a scatological joke in order to "win."

Second big realization: No punchlines. For one thing, Baum didn't use them either. My thoughts of comedy in Oz always bring me back to Utensia (visited by Dorothy in "The Emerald City of Oz"). Nearly everything in Utensia was a pun of some sort. The whole scene was a collection of rapid fire puns and jokes with no build-up to a punchline whatsoever. And trying to steer a group of players into creating a specific conclusion for a set punchline smacks of railroading (I think I've just found next week's blog topic), which is generally considered a bad thing.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Comedy Gaming vs. Joke Gaming

People play games to have fun, right? And part of that is making jokes. But from what I've seen, most people don't seem to take comedy gaming seriously. It sounds funny, but it's true.

They seem to get comedy gaming confused with what I am calling "joke gaming." The big difference is that comedy gaming takes at least some part of itself seriously, be it the setting, the characters or the plot. Without taking some aspect seriously, the game is going to devolve into a series of bad punchlines and an unplayable plot.

Paranoia, although a lot of fun, is definitely a joke game. The setting is George Orwell's 1984 as an amusement park (where everything is wonderful OR ELSE!), the characters have no guarantee that they will be competent in their assigned task (though they generally are competent at something), and the plot is crazily convoluted (all of the characters are secretly traitors to the Computer and are often assigned missions by their traitorous friends to complete alongside the mission given to them by the all-seeing Computer, all while trying to score points with the Computer by turning in any traitors they discover).

Here are a few comedies I've seen and how they fit into the breakdown of Setting, Plot and Characters.

Red Dwarf: The setting and plots were actually rather serious science-fiction fare. What really made it funny were the characters (Dave Lister is the last man in the universe you'd pick to be the Last Man in the Universe).

Discworld: The only thing that got taken seriously in any consistent way was the plot. There are serious characters (Commander Vimes) and not-so serious characters (Captain Carrot). The setting is home to places like Bad Ass and the Place Where The Sun Does Not Shine. When Ankh-Morpork was ruled by a dragon in Guards! Guards! a few members of the City Watch tried to slay the dragon by making the odds against themselves 1,000,000:1 (because million to one chances turn up nine times out of ten). But the plots themselves are rather serious. Rincewind saves the Disc on numerous occasions, Vimes solves murders, and so on.

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: Here we come full circle. In the Hitchhiker's Trilogy (all 5 volumes!), it seems like the characters are the only serious element. The setting is (maybe) science-fictionally probable, but contains such ludicrous artifacts as the Infinite Improbability Drive, the Vogons, and God's Last Message To His Creation (We Apologize For The Inconvenience). The plots are more picaresque than anything, as the characters bounce around from one ridiculous planet to another. Douglas Adams is quite good at highlighting the silliness of his universe by having at least one character (typically Arthur Dent) notice it and comment on it.

It looks like all my examples are British, which may say something about my sense of humor, or just the fact that I haven't been exposed to the great American humorists (are there any?).

In an RPG scenario, it's oddly difficult to do a character based comedy. Since most players expect to be the heroes of their adventures, they will often be highly resistant to being the butt of very many jokes. Even the Red Dwarf RPG (yes, it exists and I own it) ascribes the typical character with a basic level of competence, even though the main joke of the series is the incompetence of the characters.

If a plot isn't interesting and at least somewhat serious, players will be very unlikely to go along with it. So most of the humor of comedy gaming will typically come from setting.

Another thing to be wary of in comedy gaming is punchlines. For starters, since the player-characters have free will, getting them to go along with a specific plan of action takes some doing. For another, you're basically setting up only one joke. This runs the risk of the players not appreciating your joke. If you plan for a number of small jokes, one-liners and such, the chance that the whole experience will be marred by one bad joke diminishes significantly. Also, by using multiple jokes, it allows you to "read the room" to see which jokes are appreciated and which ones aren't, allowing you to tailor the comedy experience.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What makes an RPG?

What is it that separates an RPG from other types of games? Please be warned that this is my own opinion on the subject. Other writers, many of them with much more education and experience than myself, have tried to tackle this with limited success.

Roleplaying happens when players go beyond the concept of "position identification" (i.e "This is my playing piece" becomes "This is my guy"). Roleplaying is encouraged when this works to the player's advantage. For example, Monpoly isn't an RPG because imagining yourself in the place of a top hat or shoe does not give you an advantage in the game.

The original Dungeons & Dragons game became one of the first games to offer this kind of advantage. Unlike many other wargames available at the time, D&D gave each player control of a single character, rather than a squad or army. And there's also the fact that first level sucked.

I really discovered that last for myself rather recently at the hands of OSRIC. My friend Fishgod had discovered this, dug out an old D&D module, and tried to run it for my gaming group. There was only one survivor. Mostly because we expected the rules to be more forgiving, like more modern games.

On reflection, it was this unforgiving nature that led to roleplaying in the first place. When you've got a visibly non-zero chance to enter play with only 1 hit point, you don't charge up to things with your sword. You get creative. You distract your opponents with changes to the environment. You lead them into the dungeon's traps. By visualizing the situation and putting yourself in your character's shoes, your character's survivability increased dramatically, making it more likely that you'll reach second level, at which point things get slightly less sucky.

Modern roleplayers (including some in my group) have complained that there is little room for roleplaying in classic D&D. The alignment system was not yet fully formed, so there's no real support for characterization and drama. Every adventure published for the system is a dungeon full of monsters to be killed.

By my definition, most of the video and computer games that are labeled as RPGs are not RPGs. They remove the player's ability to improvise solutions, reducing the game to the combat simulation that modern roleplayers decry. A well written story makes the game much more fun, certainly, but it doesn't really replace the flexibility of making your own decisions.

A couple of entertaining examples of what is possible when a person (as opposed to a computer) is mediating the action:

For those who have been following the Actual Play thread I have on, I give you Corbin. In his first adventure, he managed to extend a war that otherwise would have been ended. Rather than tell him his action failed, and that his actions would continue to fail until he convinced the two sides to interact peacably, I allowed his actions to succeed and to let him deal with the consequences of his actions. It will be interesting to see him win over Ozma after that sort of incident.

Last night, Fishgod got us to try Paranoia. As a comedy game, one of it's many schticks that the characters are issued useless items and highly experimental items and are ordered to find uses for them. My character was issued a freeze-dried bagel and another character was issued a briefcase full of expanding monomolecular razorwire. After several characters fell victim to the razorwire, my character got creative and devised a shield made of the densest substance known to man: A freeze dried bagel. A computer would have to have planned rather far ahead to expect that move in order to allow it to work. Fishgod, seeing that it enhanced the fun of the game, allowed the unorthodox defense to take place and much fun was had by all.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

RIP Dave Arneson

Even among gamers, Dave Arneson is not a household name. Along with partner E. Gary Gygax, who died last year, he created the first roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons. He died a few days ago, on April 7th, 2009.

Unfortunately, while I was aware of his name and his role in the industry, I never knew him very well. There are several bloggers and writers who did, though. I encourage you to Google "Dave Arneson" to see all the obituaries and reminiscences of people who have met him and worked with him. Just based on what I've read over the last few days, he has made quite an impression on those who met him.

Farewell, Dave.

My gaming history

One of the reasons you got the "Googling" blog on Monday is because I wanted to make sure that this blog didn't get pushed back too far after my "Yes, You Can!" blog. After I posted that one, I realized that you guys might be interested in what got me into gaming in the first place. So here it is.

I didn't start gaming until after high school. I didn't start doing much of anything until after high school, but that's a different therapy session.

It was actually my girl who got me started, in a way. When we were still feeling each other out (we didn't really date, we just hung out a lot) she brought along her copy of GURPS Wild Cards. She was a fan of the Wild Cards novels and the book was a convenient reference work on the series. She had played a little D&D in high school, but had no experience with GURPS at that time.

At the local game store, I would browse the used books section, because I didn't have the money to buy any new stuff. That was where I first saw the Dream Park RPG. Looking throught it's "What is roleplaying?" section, I had to shake my head. There was no way that roleplaying was as simple as it was described there. There had to be charts and tables and miniature figures that take days to paint! All those things that hurt my brain and cost too much money! (Turns out I was wrong on every single count, but I wasn't there yet.)

Remembering her GURPS book, I picked up a used copy of GURPS Horror (first edition) as something of a present. It might still be around here somewhere, but I haven't seen it for a while.

When she left for college in LA, I went with her. She got a job on campus and I discovered the joys of the internet on the campus library computers. We started picking up the GURPS core books, mainly to figure out what the supplements were talking about (being supplements, they had lots of things with ST scores, for example, but no explanation of what an ST score was and how to tell if you had a good one) and partly to see what other options were available (lots, it turned out).

Via the internet, I discovered a variety of other roleplaying games as well. The main one that I still recall from this period is Forgotten Futures, which is still being supported after all this time. (Thanks for making me feel old, guys.) I also connected with a roleplaying group in Culver City (still part of the Los Angeles metroplex) and got my first taste of roleplaying with the RoleMaster system and the old D&D Temple of Elemental Evil. My human paladin was built for me via a computer spreadsheet. I heard some muttering about how hard it was to build a character in the rules. I didn't discover exactly how hard until I tried to build a character under those rules myself many years later. After two hours, I gave up.

It was during this time that I started development of my own roleplaying game. Me and the girl had the idea of a comic book, with me writing and her drawing. I thought it would be fun to put a simple RPG in the back of the comic. Each issue would contain the basic rules of the game, plus a little more information on the world or stats on a certain character. Nothing ever really came of it, unfortunately. I still have the RPG rules somewhere, but it would take quite a bit of work to make them really usable.

Fast forward now to the wondrous Year 2000. Although the flying car did not debut in that year, the third edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules did. Even though myths about roleplaying games had been shattering right and left, I was still intimidated by the granddaddy of them all: D&D. One more myth shattered when I picked up the Player's Handbook. Here was a version of D&D that was comprehensible.

Not long after, I joined a group and created my first D&D character: Konrad the Barbarian. It's more like he was a Barbarian named Konrad, but some people have no sense of subtlety. He wound up being the only character that I played for any significant length of time.

Because another role was forcing itself on me. The role of Dungeon Master. At the same time I was playing in that group, Another group of friends thought it would be fun to play our own game, and the role of DM fell to me. So I picked up a Dungeon magazine and picked an adventure out of it to run. I can't say I did the best job. Heck, there are times even now when I feel I could be a better Game Master.

But it was a role I've been kind of stuck with. A few years after that, I discovered the Fantasy Gamers Guild at the local university. I wound up joining a group with a DM who was the worst stereotype of the D&D gamer. Fat and smelly and no sense of story. Our characters woke up in the dungeon (an old game board) with no idea how we had gotten there and no real memory of what brought us there. All we knew is that there were monsters.

I wound up hijacking the game out from under him by bringing in games from my growing collection and trying to tempt the other players with them. I finally found a winner with IronClaw. The DM wound up making a character with the Smuggler career, but was disappointed that I didn't give him much to smuggle. He dropped out after a few sessions. On the one hand, it could be considered not much of a loss, and I really didn't miss him much at the time. In retrospect, however, it could be seen as my first big GMing failure. By failing to reach out and accomodate players, I basically drove him off.

Another part of it was that I was still going from prebuilt adventures. I ran D&D using scenarios from Dungeon Magazine (The encounter and treasure building system still intimidates me, so I would use published scenarios if I ran D&D today). The IronClaw adventures were from the scenarios printed in their supplements. When I ran GURPS Prime Directive shortly thereafter, I dug through my collection of Star Trek RPGs for scenarios.

I didn't create my own adventures until I started running Exalted. I had every supplement, but there were no real published adventures for it. One of the players suggested that something had been stolen from each of the characters and they joined up when they realized that it was the same thief. This led to a pretty epic and awesome storyline. But then, Exalted really is an epic and awesome game.

I ran several games over the course of my involvement with the Guild, including GURPS Wild Cards (the game that somewhat started it all), and my little comic book RPG (which did not go well and convinced me that I couldn't design settings at all).

I never really got much of a chance to play a character, though. Once I started going to DunDraCon, I got to play a few games there. Occassionally, my girl would run D&D for varying lengths of time. Every so often, Fishgod (one of my regular players whose name I'm not going to drop without his permission. Plus, it's a funny nickname) would change things up by offering to run something to help me recharge my GM batteries. I have mentioned this to him at least once, but Fishgod is the kind of GM I want to be when I grow up.

More recently, my confidence in my ability to design settings has been restored as I built a setting for a pulp fantasy game. It started as an experiment to try out the D6 System, but my play group decided that the system was not working out well for us. We wound up converting the game over to the Cartoon Action Hour rules and we had much more fun that way.

Now I'm on my second attempt at running a game that I've designed and it's going much better than the last time. Probably because it's a much stronger idea than the previous one. A system tailored to a specific setting and set of ideas. Fishgod has even offered to run a session of it himself to see how it stands up to a devious mind like his.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Go Google yourself!

This is something that I don't usually do, but yesterday I got the itch and this is what I discovered. It's always nice to get free advertising.

I also discovered that there is yet another product titled "Adventures in Oz". I was aware of Eric Shanower's comic book, but now there's a board game with the same name. I'm not going to link it, because this blog is about Googling. One more reason to try to come with a new name for the game. Any suggestions?

Also, here are a few people who might get a kick out of their Google searches turning up one more hit:

Bryan Fowler, Amanda Webb, Brad McDevitt, Colin Throm, and Loraine Sammy. The last two artists are fairly new to the fold, but you'll probably be seeing their work soon enough. Sooner if you Google them.
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