Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yes, you can!

I can't help but noticing that most of my readership is from the Oz side of the fence, rather than the gaming side. To which I say: What's keeping you from gaming?

You might be thinking that gaming is too complicated, with all the rules and dice and charts and tables. It isn't that complicated, really. It's basically like all the pretending games you played as a child, but with a layer of rules to prevent the "I shot you!" "No you didn't" arguments. Some rules systems are more complex, such as Burning Wheel or GURPS, while others are intended to be quite simple and intuitive, like my own Adventures in Oz or Chad Underkoffler's PDQ system. Many systems, simple or complex, offer an explanation of the process of roleplaying in the book itself.

You might be thinking that it's too expensive, with so many books to buy. You have something of a point there, as Dungeons & Dragons, the most popular RPG in the world, requires 3 rulebooks for play, with each one right around $35 a pop. Exalted, a popular anime-style game, requires only one book for play, but that one book costs around $40. And both games have supplementary materials available to enhance play at an additional cost.

This is not always the case, however. The Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition retails for only $10. And let's not forget the burgeoning PDF market. At sites like e23 and DriveThruRPG, you can purchase electronic copies of these games for much less than the price of the print version. And I am intending the retail price of Adventures in Oz to be $19.95.

You might be worried that you don't know enough people that can get together. I have heard stories of people who play with only 1 other person, with one of them as Game Master and the other as a character. The campaign that spawned Zorcerer of Zo consisted of only 2 players and the Game Master. Also, it is increasingly possible to play over the internet, connecting people with text or voice chat, or even emailing or posting "moves" onto a forum. Distance or timing issues are becoming irrelevant in this age of modern technology.

You might be worried that you wouldn't be an entertaining Game Master or that your ideas for stories might not be all that fun. Well, for one thing, if these guys are your friends, they'll accept at least a little oddity from you.

Also on that note, RPG author William H. Stoddard once compared roleplaying to music. You have the performance that is polished and rehearsed, and then you have the "jam session." In music, a jam session is where the musicians perform for their own entertainment and the entertainment of their peers. It is informal, noisy, decidedly imperfect, and most of all, fun for all involved. This is your roleplaying session. No need for perfection, just a group of people having fun, riffing off of what the others are doing.

If you're still intimidated, try listening to the Sqaure One podcast by Sam Chupp. I know that I mentioned it a while ago, and misattributed it to Bill Walton, but this time it's relevant and I got it right. Also, the latest episode was uploaded last week.

For those of you on my playtest mailing list, I probably will not have all that I promised by the end of the month. The redesign of the magic system is taking some time. There will be a new playtest kit emailed soon, but it will not be as complete and polished as I'd like. I am still dedicated to making sure that every bit of the game gets a good going over before the playtest closes at the end of June.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Burning Magical Ninjas!

The playtest session was a blast last Saturday. Everyone seems to be playing it as a comedy game, which is certainly a valid approach. When ninjas (from the Kawasaki Ninja Clan) leapt out and attacked the party (a test of the combat system that actually went rather well) I mentioned that they were wielding katanas (because katanas are just better). One of my players is something of a Japan-ophile and asked why they didn't have ninja-tos. Another player jumped in and said "Of course they have ninja-toes. They each have 10 of them."

The magic rules took another battering this week. Not in play, though. One of my more creative players prepared a list of "broken spells" over the week, and presented it to me. There were a few things that struck me about his list.

The first was how clever he was. A spell entitled "Last Chapter" that allows the caster to teleport the party directly to the Emerald City. "Download Walkthrough" gives the caster the knowledge they need to defeat a particular opponent instantly. And then there's a spell with actual precedent from the stories: "Ass to Bass" which turns the victim into a fish.

The second thing that struck me is that all of these effects were too easy to cast under the rules as written. "Last Chapter" by itself would make any Oz story far less exciting and could be cast with eerie ease by our resident sorcerer.

This is the part where I start singing the praises of Burning Wheel. Leafing through the Magic Burner, I discovered an alternate magic system that was very much what I was looking for. Simple, flexible, and ideal for small scale effects, but would have to be stretched to pull of really big things.

No, I'm not converting the whole thing over to Burning Wheel. I'm just making modifications to my own system while cribbing heavily from Art Magic. This should become part of the playtest kit that will be hitting my playtesters at the end of the month. Assuming, of course, that it passes peer review with my own group.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Magical tune-up

A number of things wound up happening this week. First of all, a new game session provided new challenges, particularly on the magical front. Our sorcerer got a little more "spotlight time" this week and used it to expose one of the flaws in the magic system. Poetry-based casting was a little too useful. I'm working on a revision now, as well as a few clarifications on exactly what magic can do.

In other news, I have posted another video to YouTube. "Dorothy Gale, Princess of Oz" isn't quite the "Dorothy Gale: Action Hero" video I wanted to make, but that one will just have to wait until I level up my video production skills (and probably software). My first time setting the images to music, but I think I did a pretty good job.

Now that the convention is out of the way, I'm trying to focus on getting everything ready for my playtesters by the end of the month. With Ozma's birthday coming up in August, I'd like to have something ready to go by then. If I can give them a moderately complete game to run through by the end of the month, then that gives them April, May and June as a final playtest/comment period, with July dedicated to getting it laid out and finalized, ready to go on sale by August 21st.

I'd also like to do something to actually celebrate Ozma's birthday on my blog and my site. Any ideas?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Goodbye and hello

Another death to comment on this week. Thankfully, it's not a new one, just the anniversary of an old one. One year ago yesterday, on March 4, 2008, E. Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, passed away. All modern role-playing games are due to the example that he created. Even though "Adventures in Oz" is very different from the Dungeons & Dragons game that Gary designed, or as it is played now, it still traces it's roots back to good ol' D&D.

I finally managed to talk my gaming group into trying out "Adventures in Oz". So on Saturday night, we got everybody's character's made and started out a simple scenario. You can read the results of the session over here. (Check out the rest of the site while you're there. Jared could use the traffic.)

A few things of note: Character creation was a small challenge. One player commented that the Child in Oz template had a higher base Wits rating than the Soldier, which makes little sense in any kind of real world context. But once you start accepting that this is Oz, it makes much more sense.

The big challenge was coming up with starting friends for the characters. According to the rules, every character has one friend of their choice on their Friends List. For the Sorcerer, we decided that he wanted to practice magic legally, so we made his friend the Good Witch of the North. Our sand-man has a wind-fairy as a friend. I think our anime-inspired character is still working on a friend. We'll see how that develops.

Instead of the Winged Monkeys, I was originally going to use Nomes. I was thinking that General Guph was trying to conquer Oz by making sure that Ozma was so busy dealing with all sorts of small troubles that his army could invade with little opposition. I scratched that idea after I realized that our last campaign revolved around a plot by an outsider general to conquer the world. Even if it was a different general with a different master plan, I didn't want to get stuck in a rut.

The rules mechanics worked out just fine. Everyone got the hang of how to roll the dice rather quickly. Our sorcerer had little problem casting spells, but that may simply have been because I have the spell-building rules memorized (I did design them, after all). He was quick to use poetry, meaning he wasn't too ready to risk failure. I probably should have mentioned the Terminal Condition rules to him, because now the spaghetti fields will be permanently illuminated.

Nobody has spent any Oz Points, either for bonuses or for plot devices. We'll see how those mechanics work out.

The only real flaw or gap I found in the system is that Oz Points, while helping to drive play, are not the only kind of reward the system should have. I'd like to be able to reward the players for making me laugh without weakening Oz Points.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Some things I left out

I feel like some kind of jerk for not mentioning the passing of Phillip Jose Farmer in my last blog, even though he had died a few days before I posted it. And since he was not only an Oz author, but he had one of his science fiction worlds adapted to a roleplaying format, I've been getting it from both ends.

I have not read "A Barnstormer in Oz", so I will allow James Wallace's blog to cover that front. The gaming angle goes to Steve Jackson Games, publishers of GURPS Riverworld, and their Daily Illuminator.

It is interesting to note that Phillip Jose Farmer enjoyed the prospect of others "playing in his sandbox". Many other authors I have heard about are much more territorial about the worlds and stories that they have created. I wonder how L. Frank Baum would have responded to all of the Oz stories that other people have written.

I also forgot to mention one of the books I bought at the con. This one is a significant omission because it was designed by one of my artists, Brad McDevitt. He's they guy who did the Queen of the Field Mice, as well and the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow illustrations I posted here.

Haiiiii-Ya!: This game is intended to replicate the over-the-top action of most martial arts animes. It works very nicely by fitting all the numbers on a scale of 1-6 rather than trying to replicate anything being "over 9000!" The tone of the game is humorous, up to and including the names of the Chi Powers that characters can acquire.

My main assessment of the game is "Dragonball Z without all the constipation." I mean seriously, how many times have you watched Goku in a very tense squatting pose literally screaming with effort and thought "That guy needs some fiber in his diet"?
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