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!
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