Thursday, January 29, 2009

Know thy villain

You probably thought that my review of "The Tin Woodman of Oz" was going to be my blog for the week, didn't you? Well, I've got to keep on my rhythm and I thought you guys might be interested in watching the adventure design process from the inside.

My starting point is the title: "The Magic Belt of Oz". And also the blurb I submitted to the DunDraCon staff. While I could create a completely different adventure and run it in the allotted time slot, it would be much more work than starting from some kind of base.

So the story is about the theft of the Magic Belt. Who would steal it?

The Nome Kings seem an obvious choice, but they also have reasons that they can't. Ruggedo is wandering Oz without his memory (And Thompson might have dealt with him more permanently), and Kaliko is trapped being nice to Oz even though he hates it.

Few other villains appear in the Oz stories without being reformed in some way. The primary exception being Mrs. Yoop, the Yookoohoo from "The Tin Woodman of Oz". Although Ugu the Shoemaker (villain of "Lost Princess of Oz") learns humility from his transformation into a dove, there's no guarantee that Mrs. Yoop woke up one morning and decided to be a nice Green Monkey. And monkeys are crafty, meaning she would be very likely to escape her prison.

Her connection to Mr. Yoop is also useful. A climactic battle might be a fun thing for the players, especially as a chance to try out the game's combat mechanics. And it doesn't get more climactic than a fight with a giant.

Stealing the Magic Belt not only gives her an opportunity to get her original form and powers back, but could constitute a form of revenge against Princess Ozma, who was the one who trapped her in the form of a Green Monkey to start with. (Sure, she's the one who gave the form to Woot, but Ozma's the one who gave her a taste of her own medicine.)

It's likely that the main action of the adventure will occur as the heroes chase Mrs. Yoop across the Quadling Country as she goes to free Mr. Yoop. Since Quadling Country is plenty explored, there's lots of fodder for encounters there. Fuddlecumjig tops the list for me. It's a place Mrs. Yoop would go straight to if she thought she were being pursued. Just the act of her passing would create a mess that the heroes will need hours to clean up.

China Country is a similar place, and on the way, but repairing porcelain people isn't as much fun as putting together puzzles. The nearby Dark Forest, though, has possibilities. For those who may not remember, this is where the Cowardly Lion earned the title of King of Beasts. If Mrs. Yoop did something in her passing to upset the animals, there could be an interesting encounter there.

Then there's the big battle with Mr. Yoop. but believe it or not, that's not the capstone of the adventure. The heroes still need to get the Magic Belt back from Mrs. Yoop. She's gone back to her castle in the Gillikin Country, giving her the homefield advantage.

By the time they get there, Mrs. Yoop has used the magic of the Belt to change back to the person she once was. Then the real fun begins.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Tin Woodman of Oz

For those of you who may not have seen it, someone has put together a CGI animated version of "The Tin Woodman of Oz" and put it on YouTube. I just finished watching it and I felt the need to share my thoughts. Spoilers will follow, so watch out.

It is both too close to the original and too far. Many lines and scenes are taken verbatim from the book, often to their detriment. The balloon jokes in Loonville in particular did not go over well, both in their performance and with how the Loons looked. And the fact that the Tin Man has the same conversation with a tin head that his literary counterpart had with his own former head is something of a wallbanger.

The story is jumbled about, with Tin Woodman meeting and being rejected by Nimmie Ammee rather early in the story. This of course gives him time to meet and fall in love with her tin counterpart later in the story (which didn't happen in the book). Also, Captain Fyter is left out, but the thing that Nimmie Ammee winds up marrying is still called Chopfyt.

Also, when they story flashes back to how Nick Chopper became the Tin Woodman, it's suggested that cutting of a body part in Oz is a rather grisly proceeding. Because of the way the Tin Woodman has always been so matter-of-fact about the process, I've always thought of it like the scene in "Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail" featuring the Black Knight.

The filmmakers seem to forget that the Scarecrow has many of the invulnerabilities of the Tin Man. On a few occassions, he talks about being cold or hungry or uncomfortable in some way which should not be the case.

If not for the quality of the voice acting, it would be a fun film for those who haven't read the book. For those who have, it's a train wreck from start to finish.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

You only get one chance... game with someone at a con.

Unlike a gaming group at home, you will only have this group together once, for a few hours. Once the game is done, the story is told and it will never happen again. So making it memorable is very important.

For "Attack of the Retcons", I pulled out all the stops. Spending nearly 6 months in development of this adventure, I like to think I put together a show-stopper. It's got:

* Your favorite Transformers characters recreated using original stats from the toys.
* An epic story that is a loving homage to the classic movie.
* Music cues from the classic movie.
* Screenshots from the classic cartoons depicting major settings and characters.
* I even had an artist friend draw a picture of what a Retcon might look like.

Why am I going on about "Attack of the Retcons" yet again? For one thing, 6 months of work lodges certain things in your brain. I'm finding similar results with my research and reading for Oz facts. For another, it's a great example of what a con game once-in-a-lifetime event can be (If I may be so humble).

So that leads me to "The Magic Belt of Oz". Originally designed as a "quickstart" game to promote the RPG and let players try out the rules, it should work well as a con game experience. But I'd like to make sure that it's as awesome (in it's own way) as "Retcons". So far it's got:

* Canon characters (including Dorothy) as playable characters.
* A story that offers some new places to explore in Oz.

And that's about it. I've thought that a cool touch might be to actually serve something to toast with during the birthday party scene (and maybe teach the kids some ettiquette).

I could also use some more pregenerated characters. The challenge isn't statting up the characters. I believe the rules are simple enough that anyone can do that in about 5 minutes. The challenge is choosing friends. Since this is only one story (though with room for expansion), I'd like to have characters who can call on their special friends for help during the adventure. For example, Scraps the Patchwork Girl might have Ojo as a friend, but what benefit might Scraps recieve by spending an Oz Point to call on him?

Also, I need to come up with a simple paragraph or two bringing the players up to speed if they've only seen the movie. Explaining how Dorothy came to live in Oz and maybe touch on a few of her new friends.

Thanks to all my loyal readers for bringing me a total of 1000 hits on the blog! Here's for 1,000 more!

EDIT: All right, I think I figured out why "Magic Belt" is not as awesome as Retcons. I don't have as much enthusiasm for the game. When I was writing it initially, I was so determined that it be "Ozzy" that I fought a lot of my own adventure writing instincts. Now to see if I can rewrite it to be something that I can actually be proud of in the next three weeks.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

4 weeks to DunDraCon

In just 29 days, I will be in beautiful San Ramon, staying at the lovely San Ramon Marriot hotel and running 2 games for the attendees at DunDraCon. Yes, I said 2 games. Not only am I running "The Magic Belt of Oz" to promote the RPG, but I'm running another adventure entitled "Transformers: Attack of the Retcons." This will be using the Cartoon Action Hour system, designed by Cynthia Celeste Miller and Eddy Webb. I ran this adventure at last year's DunDraCon, but I feel that I could have done it better. It was designed as a strong homage to the 1986 film Transformers: The Movie, complete with final showdown in the depths of Unicron (or his head, anyway)

For those not familiar, "retcon" is a fan term for "retroactive continuity", which is what happens when a story changes previously established lore for a character or setting. Considering that the Transformers universe is full of other "cons", such as Decepticons, Contructicons and Minicons, it seemed that including Retcons would be a fun joke. That adventure is a lot of fun to run, which is another reason that I wanted to run it again this year.

Here are a few examples of retcons from the Oz stories.

Ozian Immortality: While "Wonderful Wizard" contains a good bit of death and describes the Wizard as aging to an old man during his seclusion in the palace, later stories establish that the people of Oz never age and cannot be killed. While some Oz fans have made attempts to explain this away (the most popular theory being that immortality is only in effect during the reign of a true Fairy, as opposed to a Wizard or a Scarecrow), it is actually more of a retcon.

The Wizard and Ozma: While "The Land of Oz" describes the Wizard as complicit in Ozma's disappearance, this detail is omitted in "Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz" when the Wizard returns to Oz and he tells his version of the backstory.

I'm sure the Oz scholars among my readers can come up with a few more.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Not much news this week

The Quadling Country document is proceeding along.

A few days ago, Oz blogger Jared Davis posted a blog about whether religion exists in Oz. There is no real mention of religion in the stories. There is a church in the China Country in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", but the story doesn't dwell on it at all.

I think the next question is: What are the functions of religion and does Oz need any of them to be filled?

Although one commenter on Jared's blog described religion as a "search for truth", the primary function of religion is to unify a community. But most communities in Oz are unified by their unusual natures. The residents of Bunbury are edible for most of the other denizens of Oz. The Loons of Loonville are easily punctured, especially by the kitchen implements that populate Utensia.

Another purpose is to provide answers. Before there was science, there was mythology that explained how the universe worked. The fairies who enchanted the land of Oz have been around since time began, so there is no need to create myths when you can simply ask someone who was there.

Then we have the establishment of moral codes. Most of this is covered by the strictly temporal authority of Ozma and her laws, along with the various rulers and potentates that are below her.

Gregory Maguire's Wicked series does establish some religions for Oz. The main reason for this is that Maguire breaks from a few Oz traditions. Maguire's Oz is full of mortal people, allowing history to pass into mythology. Also, Maguire describes Oz as much less magical. The fairies are much more distant forces, and unlikely things require much more effort.

EDIT: Almost forgot: Another function of religion is the granting of divine power. From the D&D cleric to the WoW priest through Final Fantasy's White Mages, religious figures have often wielded divine powers in RPGs. This does not seem to happen in Oz. While it may be possible to get aid from a nature fairy, the process is very similar to negotiating aid from any other person, even if the result is more fantastic.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Publish or Perish!

That is one of my big New Year's resolutions. The other is to marry this absolutely wonderful woman I've been in love with for the longest time, but that's a separate issue.

Now for a look back at the year that was:

Total amount spent on art: $300. My projected art budget: Around $1,000. If I can dodge unemployment this year, I might be able to make up the difference. I also have a potential investor, but I'm notorious for not counting my chickens before they are hatched.

Total blog hits: 850. This is only from about the beginning of August when I installed the hit counter. I imagine I'll hit 1,000 by February, when I tell you how DunDraCon went this year.

Total website hits: 329. This count begins from August 20, when I started using Google Analytics to track my site visits.

I have received hits from 35 states of the union and 23 foreign countries. Top hit-producing state: California (82 hits). Top foreign country: The UK (15 hits).

The worrying numbers are "Length of Visit" and "Depth of Visit." Nearly half of my visitors spent less than 10 seconds browsing my site and about 40% of visitors browsed only 1 page. Coupled with some other numbers that have been gathered, I'm figuring that the majority of these hits are actually from various "bots" scouting out my little corner of the internet. It will take some doing to tease out an exact number of these, but it's on my list of things to do.

Highest number of hits in 1 day: 10. This was November 6, soon after I posted an Oz thread on

Best hit getter: The YouTube video. The day it was posted, my site received 8 hits. Traffic to the site has stayed rather steady since then, with an average of 5 hits a day for the week immediately after. The posting created a bigger spike, but had a much quicker dropoff. Given this success, I think another YouTube video will be forthcoming. Maybe even with music this time.
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