Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: The Year That Was

Now that Christmas is past, it's time to start looking back on the previous year and looking ahead to next year. This post is going to be focusing on 2010, while next week's post will be my resolutions for 2011.

Unlike previous years, there are two categories of achievements: Those for the blog and those for the game itself.

The most popular blog entry this year (based on Google Analytics data) is How I Spent My Winter Vacation, my blog recounting my experiences at DunDraCon. Among the number of photos I snapped that weekend, I managed to snag a picture of a minor celebrity (other than Ken Hite). It turns out that this is not just any girl in a chainmail bikini, but is in fact the geek superstar Chainmail Girl. My fiancee, however, insists that she's the prettiest girl in that blog post. I'm inclined to agree.

The most actively commented blog for this year was Adventures in Oz Now Available! in which I announce the availability of the print version of the game.

My favorite blog post of this year has got to be Firing Characters (Out Of A Canon!). For one thing, I think the title was a pretty good joke. Plus the comments really got me thinking about the difference between tabletop gamers and what I called "fanfic roleplayers." I haven't drawn any conclusions yet, but some definite food for thought.

This was also the year I actually put out a podcast. I definitely enjoyed the experience and would like to do it again. I'm currently on the lookout for anyone or anything to talk about. If there's something you'd like to see covered in the blog or as a podcast, drop me a line at adventuresinoz (at) thegame (dot) com.

Now for the accomplishments of the book.

It looks like I'm closing out the year with 108 sales, with slightly over half of them being from the PDF market. But that's not whole picture. That only represents the people who paid me money for the game. About 30 print copies of the game have gone out to playtesters, artists and reviewers to get some goodwill and press for AiO.

And then there was the Doctors Without Borders fundraiser put on by OneBookShelf. Not only did a lot of money get raised to help flood victims in Pakistan, but around 2500 people downloaded Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. To a certain extent, this was a good thing. While the fundraiser was going on, print sales over at Lulu surged (for a given value of "surged") and I got a nice little bit of good press. I am particularly proud of this review, not only because he gave me 5 out of 5 stars, but because he's someone whose books I own. Jason Levine is the author of GURPS Psionic Powers and the Assistant GURPS Line Editor over at Steve Jackson Games.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas To All And To All A Good Night

Perhaps my Christmas posts have been a little too cynical this year, what with having to hawk a product and all. So I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all of that good stuff.

I recently received a pretty nifty gift. If you were a fan of the Adventures in Oz Facebook Page, you would have seen that last week, I finally sold the 100th copy of AiO. Which officially makes me a schmuck.

Just in case Santa is reading this, here's my Christmas wish list: A print copy of Tik-Tok of Oz (for research purposes), The Dresden Files RPG: Our World (the setting book for the game. I got the rulebook as a birthday present for myself last month), GURPS Low-Tech (their latest hardcover release), and a netbook (so I can do more writing without having to fight the fiancee for the desktop).

What's on your Oz/gaming wishlist?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Are You Afraid of The Dark?

Probably not an appropriate topic for the Christmas season, but it's something that's been on my mind lately.

For one thing, why take Oz dark? Why not simply make it more realistic or consistent? I think it's because people tend to view Oz as a bright, pleasant place and the easiest way to create a contrast is to go all the way dark.

Another question that is relevant to ask is: What makes something dark? For those of you who don't know, it takes more than vampires to make something dark.

Darkness in fiction (and gaming) has to do with the role of evil in the story. If evil is winning, or has already won, it's dark. If the heroes live in the Good Kingdom and fight against the armies of the Evil Kingdom next door, you've got a fairly light situation. If the heroes live in the Evil Kingdom, and are rebels against the Evil King, then you've got darkness.

Both Caliber Comics and Disney produced a dark version of Oz by allowing it to be conquered by the Nome King. While this technique is effective, and lets your favorite Oz characters become heroic freedom fighters, it's a pretty severe change to the setting.

Another way to "darken" a setting is to apply a "dark mirror," taking things that are normally good and making them evil. A dark mirror Oz may have the Wizard, or Ozma, or Glinda in charge, but they are dark versions of their literary selves, harming others for their own self-gratification. Wicked uses this technique, casting the Wizard as the antagonist and Elphaba as a crusader for Animal rights.

With all this dark Oz stuff going around, I'm wondering if I should try and come up with a supplement for AiO with advice and suggestions for running a dark campaign.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

If You Thought Star Wars: Episode 1 Was Bad...

...well, I'm right there with you on that one.

On a completely different subject, I have completed my first podcast. The Adventures in Oz Podcast Episode 1 is now available!


While I had wanted to do a podcast for some time, getting it together proved to be something of a challenge. For one thing, I wanted a co-host, or at least someone to talk to. I find podcasts more fun to listen to if it's not just one voice, especially if there's a little banter and crosstalk going on. But it never really presented itself. Sure, I could have asked someone, but where's the fun in that?

I was nearly giving up when the whole Oz: Dark and Terrible thing came up. Having managed to get my hands on a copy (I actually traded someone a copy of AiO for it), I decided that my review of it would be long enough that it would probably be boring to read, but probably a good length for a podcast.

So once I had everything written and recorded, then began the arduous process of editing. I had no idea I was such a Shatner. So many pauses! Thankfully, I was able to trim them out and shave about 10 minutes off of the recording time.

Just a little commercial here: The Big 25 Sale is still going on at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and On top of that, Lulu is offering coupon codes out the wazoo this holiday season. Until December 14, you can get free ground shipping with the coupon code HOLIDAY305. And they're also giving out a new coupon code every day until Christmas here. And remember, these coupon codes are cumulative (not sure exactly how, but they are) with the Big 25 discount of 25% off.

The Big 25 sale is ongoing through Christmas Day, so if your favorite Oz fan or gamer gets forgotten by Santa, it's easy to fix. Just check out one of the participating sites and order the instant gratification download and start playing the sample adventure, "The Jaded City of Oz."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Zeb Hugson

Something of an unusual choice this month. I already did Santa Claus last December, so the easy one is done.

Name: Zeb Hugson
First Appearance: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
Template: Child in Oz

Size: 2

Athletics: 4
Awareness: 4
Brains: 1
Presence: 2 (horsemanship)
Sneaking: 3
Wits: 3


Friends List: Jim the Cab-Horse

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Goodbye Thanksgiving, it's time for Christmas already!

I'm sure many of you are getting stuffed with turkey today, and plan on doing your shopping tomorrow on the infamous Black Friday. But thanks to the glories of the internet, some stores never close. And some of those stores are mine.

Starting today is the Big 25 sale at RPGnow, DrivethruRPG, and (print and PDF). From November 25 (Thanksgiving Day) through December 25 (Christmas Day), you can save 25% on Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. That's only $5.99 for the PDF or $11.24 for print.

Also, a new item is available today. Now you can get your own poster map of Oz over at It's the same map from the Adventures in Oz rulebook, now for display on your wall or wherever you put your Oz collectibles.

In other news, I got my hands on a copy of Oz: Dark and Terrible and am planning on posting a review in podcast form. Watch this space for updates on that.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Getting Ready

Sorry about the late blog post.

As much as I hate the mad mercantile rush around Christmas, I am forcing myself to participate. I've got a couple things that will be happening come Thanksgiving Day. I'll be having a Christmas sale at Lulu, DriveThruRPG, and RPGnow. And I'll be debuting a new product over at Zazzle. on that day as well.

Slightly farther out: I've been working on getting POD book printing through OneBookShelf. The first proof copy I ordered had some problems, and I had to get the file massaged before trying again. I ordered my second proof copy today. If that passes inspection, people can buy a print copy of AiO from DriveThruRPG and RPGnow. That also means that I'll be able to sell that holy grail of modern RPG marketing: The Print/PDF Bundle.

I am working on a new product right now: You've all seen my "Oz Character of the Month"? Well, I'm planning on putting that information onto nicely formatted character sheets. I've got a collection picked out featuring characters you've seen before and some statted out for the first time in this product. Illustrations have been provided by Oz illustrator S.P. Maldonado. I just need to do a little more writing, then get it certified and laid out pretty. No timetable yet, but I'm hoping it'll be available during the Christmas holiday season.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Hate Christmas!

Actually, I really enjoy Christmas. While I don't get as many toys anymore (damn growing up!), it's still fun to check up with the family and play with the nephews' toys (though they're getting older now).

What I don't like about Christmas is how aggressively mercantile it's become. While out shopping for Halloween candy, I see displays with Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Thanksgiving gets no breathing room at all. It's primarily used to mark the day before "Black Friday", which is the day that people trample other people to death at Wal-Mart... I mean, the biggest shopping day of the year.

The worst part about this is that this is my first Christmas on the other side of the fence. As someone with something to sell, I'm going to have to find a way to tap all of this mercantile Christmas spirit while trying to make sure that I don't lose my personal love of Christmas.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Jack Pumpkinhead

There are those who would say I'm late with this one, but I say I'm right on time.

Name: Jack Pumpkinhead
First Appearance: The Marvelous Land of Oz
Template: Crafted Person

Size: 3

Athletics: 2
Awareness: 3
Brains: 2 (pumpkins)
Presence: 3
Sneaking: 1
Wits: 2

Traits: Crafted, Craftsman: Pumpkins

Friends List: Ozma

Jack Pumpkinhead is the most curiously mortal being in the land of Oz. While his wooden body will not wear out, his pumpkin head spoils on a regular basis. So he maintains a pumpkin farm in the Winkie country near the Emerald City so he always has a fresh pumpkin on hand to carve into a new head whenever he needs it. He has also carved a home from a particularly large pumpkin where he entertains guests and serves them various pumpkin-based delicacies, made from pumpkins that he has no need of as heads.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What do I do for an encore?

Thanks to everyone who purchased the charity bundle from RPGNow. Over $60,000 was raised to help Doctors Without Borders as they provide relief to flood victims in Pakistan.

But now I've got an interesting problem. Over 2,000 people have downloaded my game (even if they bought the bundle to get their hands on big name games like Icons, Exalted, or Starblazer Adventures) and I have nothing to follow it with. No supplements, no extra promotional items.

Typically, when you give away something for free, it's because you want them to buy a product later. Give away a free sample of cereal to get the customer to buy a box of it. Give away a core rulebook to encourage people to buy supplements.

But my supplement plans are proceeding slowly. I do have a fairly quick and easy project in the works, but I've had such bad luck with announcing release dates that I don't want to risk it right now. In the meanwhile, if you came here looking for supplements, sourcebooks or adventures modules (Take that, Google!), you can always find a new Oz character posted here every month.

To all the people who found Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road in their bundle: Tell your friends about this game. The more people buy the game, the more ability I will have to produce those supplements for you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gareth-Michael Skarka is full of crap

Gareth-Michael Skarka has been in the RPG industry for quite some time. And so he knows lots of stuff. But sometimes, he drops the ball.

In a recent blog, Gareth predicts the upcoming death of the tabletop RPG industry. A startling claim. His evidence? The Dresden Files RPG sold 3,000 books in the 3rd quarter of 2010. "Back in my day," I can hear the old man voice creaking "3,000 copies was a solid initial order."

But what does this really prove? Not as much as Gareth thinks it does. It proves that the RPG industry works differently than it did back in the 90's.

Because in the 1990's, the only way to get an economical price on book printing was to buy a lot of them. Only printing one or two at a time was an insane proposition. You had to order in volume. At least 1,000. 3,000 isn't too far off. Thanks to print on demand technology, those low per-book prices can be had at a much smaller volume.

Also, once you printed up your 3,000 copies in the year 199x, the next step was to sell to a distributor. Once you had done that, your involvement with selling those books was essentially done. It was now up to the distributor to sell the product to retailers, who then sold it to the end-user.

But come the year 2000, we got the 3rd edition of D&D and the resulting d20 glut. Gareth calls it an "explosion", but really, it was a glut. Too many people were trying to hitch their wagon to the d20 brand, publishing their old D&D campaigns and modules and trying to make a million dollars. Some of them might have actually done it. But they did so at the expense of the distributors. Distributors and retailers wound up saddled with literally tons of stuff that nobody wanted as customers realized that the d20 System logo was not an assurance of quality.

Fast forward to now and you might find a distributor who'll buy 3,000 copies of your game, if you're lucky and have an established track record. They've learned their lesson on that one.

So today's RPG publisher is leaner and meaner than those of yore. Instead of printing 3,000 books that will probably still be sitting in a warehouse somewhere six months from now, they are able to print a few at a time, responding swiftly as demand increases and scaling back when it doesn't happen.

Nothing's going away. It's just changing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In which I invoke a meme

Just a reminder: The Pakistan Relief Bundle at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow is only going to be available until Monday, October 25 at 10 AM EST. It's only $25 to support a really good cause and get some cool schwag in the process.

Since everyone else in the gaming blogosphere is doing it, I guess I'll have to do it, too. Here is a list of the 15 games that have inspired me as a player, Narrator, and game designer. And I have only 15 minutes to come up with them all.

2. Exalted
3. Ironclaw
4. Dream Park
5. Dungeons & Dragons
6. Cartoon Action Hour
7. Palladium
8. Pokethulhu
9. World of Darkness
10. Ars Magica
11. Great Ork Gods
12. Feng Shui
13. Big Eyes, Small Mouth
14. Burning Wheel
15. Spirit of the Century

Monday, October 18, 2010

Adventures Without Borders!

Back in January, OneBookShelf held a fundraiser to help Doctors Without Borders provide relief to Haiti after that country suffered a massive earthquake. Now they're doing it again. This time, it's to help flood victims in Pakistan. This time, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond The Yellow Brick Road is there. I have donated the PDF version of the game to the bundle of free product you'll get when you donate $25 to DWB through OneBookShelf.

Please give your support to this fundraiser. Links here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Oz: Dark and Terrible

As I try to keep abreast of both roleplaying and Oz, this particular item got my attention.

As I said in my interview with Blair Frodelius over at the Daily Ozmapolitan, I don't generally care for dark takes on Oz. I think they're missing the point. It seems to me that they're trying to make Oz more "grown up" and "mature", which really isn't necessary.

For one thing, although Baum did include a lot of whimsy and silliness in the stories, he always treated his characters with respect, never sacrificing them for cheap drama or cheap jokes. Danger was always real and escape was always earned. Oz was never a land where major crises were resolved by some last minute deus ex machina, and The Nome King would never allow himself to be defeated by Delicious Fruit Pies. So they should pass nearly any test of "grown-up-ness" you'd care to apply.

"But it can't be mature until there's sex, violence and lots of explosions!" seems to be the opinion of a lot of people. "If it's not rated R, it must be kid's stuff." But not C.S Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, he once wrote: "Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

I do wish them the best, and I hope they bring some new people to Oz. My main criticism is on "dark Oz" in general, not Oz: Dark & Terrible is particular. I'll save comments on the game itself for after I have actually seen it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Ozzy McTavish

In honor of Halloween, that wondrous day when we all like to dress up like people we aren't, I present a character that originally (and up til now, only) existed as a costume. Those of you who attended Winkie 2010 might have seen Eric Gjovaag wandering the convention with his Emerald City jersey and big plastic bat. Now Ozzy McTavish can be a character at your gaming table!

Name: Ozzy McTavish
First Appearance: Winkie 2010
Template: Wanderer

Size: 3

Athletics: 4 (Baseball)
Awareness: 3
Brains: 2
Presence: 2
Sneaking: 3
Wits: 2

Traits: None

Friends List: Emerald City Green Sox

"I was blown away," says Emerald City Green Sox manager Henry Gale of sensation Ozzy McTavish.

Sports fans were certainly blown away last week as the Green Sox triumphed over the Wonderland White Wabbits in the Fantasy League Playoffs. A McTavish home run in the 6th inning earned him 3 RBIs and gave the Sox an unbeatable 8-3 lead against those wascally wabbits.

McTavish wasn't the only hero in that game, though. Second baseman Hip Hopper bravely attempted to counter the fancy footwork of the Wabbits, but wound up pulling his (only) hamstring trying to tag the Cheshire Cat on his way to/through second base. Sal Shaker, traded up from the Utensia Knicknacks, stepped in to relieve him and particularly shined as a pinch hitter.

Fellow Knicknack Clay Jugg stood firm on the pitcher's mound, pouring out a steady stream of strikes against the visiting Wonderlanders. Although Joe Candy was strongly favored as pitcher by the Championship Committee, it was revealed that he took the performance enhancing drug zosozo and was therefore ineligible to compete.

(Thanks to Eric Gjovaag for letting me do this.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo

Author: Chad Underkoffler
Publisher: Atomic Sock Monkey Press

The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo (hereafter ZoZ) is a relatively small book (6x9 inches, about 200 pages) with a significant punch. It contains a trimmed down version of the Prose Descriptive Qualities system (also known as PDQ, the house system of Atomic Sock Monkey Press), advice for running fairy tale themed RPGs, a description of the land of Zo, and details of the ZoZ campaign that the author ran for two of his friends.

The preface of the book explains how the book came to be. It had all started as a game that Chad Underkoffler had run for his friends. They both loved the game and wanted him to publish the setting. But there wasn’t much to the setting. Only what had been created for the needs of the campaign. Then he realized that over the history of RPGs, several books had been written about what you could do or should do in a game, but very few presented what people had actually had done.

The PDQ system is a very lite and abstract system. Characters are made up of Qualities, traits that are created by the player, rather than chosen from a list. These Qualities are then rated either Master, Expert, Good, Average or Poor. All characters must have a Quality with a Poor rating. This is their Weakness and represents a character flaw or disability. Characters also have a Special Move, which provides a bonus to one or more of their Qualities.

So if our good friend the Tin Woodman were being played in a PDQ game, he might look something like this:

Name: Nick Chopper

Qualities: Master [+6] Tin Plating, Expert [+4] Woodchopper, Good [+2] Kind Heart, Poor [-2] Rust Prone

Special Move: Badaxe!

Notes: The numbers in brackets are the numerical bonuses that Qualities of that rank provide when rolling dice. The Special Move “Badaxe!” grants a free Upshift whenever Nick uses his ax, typically with his Woodchopper Quality.

The mechanics are fairly simple: Roll 2d6, add the bonuses from any applicable Qualities and compare the result to a Difficulty number. If you roll higher than the Difficulty, you succeed.

The aspect of the system that is particularly noteworthy is how it handles damage. I have heard PDQ described as the only system where you can take a punch in the girlfriend. Rather than having a separate pool of hit points, characters take damage to their Qualities. Since Qualities are defined by the player, it is possible for one to represent a relationship their character has with another.

Which Quality you use to take damage first is also important, as the Narrator is supposed to use that to generate Story Hooks. If your character does wind up “taking a punch in the girlfriend”, that means that your girlfriend will be significant in some way later in the story.

Example: Nick Chopper is fighting a pack of wolves and has just taken 2 ranks of damage. He could apply them to his Tin Plating Quality, reducing it from Master [+6] to Good [+2]. This would generate a Story Hook related to his tin nature. If he applied those ranks to his Kind Heart Quality, it would go from Good [+2] all the way down to Poor [-2] (the lowest it can go) and he would find his kindness challenged later in the story.

The book particularly shines in presenting the Actual Play material. The main text is written by Chad, who was the Narrator of this particular campaign, and details the setting, some major characters, and finally, the story that was created over the course of play. But Chad and his players also provide “DVD commentary tracks”, a series of text-box asides that give their perspective on what’s going on in the main text. When the main characters are presented, they also feature the player describing the process of coming up with the character and even bring up a few different concepts that they almost used, but didn’t.

Is it Oz? Yes and no. The land of Zo does have a small resemblance to Oz, mostly in terms of geography (see the map on the back cover), but draws from a variety of sources. That said, the PDQ system could handle an Oz game pretty easily.

The only thing marring my recommendation is the price tag: $30. Most RPGs of its size are less expensive (My own AiO is 14.99, about half the price), and most RPGs of its price are fancier (at that price point, most major publishers are able to offer hardcover books, usually with full color illustrations).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I'm Back!

At last the boxes are getting unpacked and the internet is finally connected at the new house! But in the interim, I have missed another weekly blog post.

It might not matter much to you, my loyal readers, but it matters to me. As a small publisher, I don't have big ad campaigns or slick websites. This blog is my primary marketing outlet and connection to my fans. If I forsake that, or even look like I'm forsaking it, I stand to lose everything I have built over the last two and a half years.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Child's Play?

There is an expanding market for kid's RPGs these days. Dungeons & Dragons is over 30 years old. A 10-year old kid who got one of those early boxed sets back in the '70's has grown into his 40's by now, and probably has a career and family. So whether he's looking to pass on the legacy of fun that RPGs have given him over the years or simply trying to demonstrate to his kids what daddy does with his friends every Saturday night, having an RPG that they can relate to is becoming remarkably valuable.

To fill this gap, games like Faery's Tale and Meddling Kids have arisen. But what about AiO? Is it a kid's game?

Yes and no.

Yes, Oz is something that is generally considered "kid stuff." Yes, I wrote the game to be accessible to beginners, regardless of age. Yes, the rules are actually pretty simple compared to most RPGs.

But no, I did not design the game with any particular age group in mind. I've played it with a group of kids and I've played it with a group of twenty-somethings and both groups had a lot of fun. And I don't plan on revising the game to make it more "kid-friendly."

For one thing, neither L. Frank Baum or Gary Gygax, father of RPGs, ever talked down to their audience. In fact, many early gamers give Gygax significant credit for their vocabulary, as they often had to reference the dictionary in order to figure out what he was saying.

And even in a kid's RPG, the person you need to explain things to is not necessarily the player, but the Narrator. It's more common for the Narrator to be a grown-up in a group of kids rather than the other way around, so writing the book for a 5th grade reading level is going to be insulting to a college-educated adult.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's Finally Here!

For those of you who have been patiently waiting for me to get everything together, it's finally here. The PDF version of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is now available. You can get it from your favorite PDF site.


Drivethru RPG

Your Games Now

Happy downloading!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: The Thing

Things are getting pretty crazy here at the Wall household. For one thing, the household is moving to another house. Also, I have recently changed jobs to something that is hopefully much less stressful. And most exciting of all, I have become engaged to the most charming girl and am hip-deep in wedding preparations. I apologize if any of these causes the blog to suffer.

For this month’s Oz Character of the Month, we bring you a character you may not really think of as a character.

Name: The Thing
First Appearance: The Marvelous Land of Oz
Template: Large Animal

Size: 4

Athletics: 3 (Long Distance Flying)
Awareness: 3
Brains: 1
Presence: 1
Sneaking: 2
Wits: 2

Traits: Crafted, Flight, No Arms

Friends List: Ozma

The Thing (sometimes called the Gump, though this isn’t wholly accurate) was assembled as a vehicle of escape when the Emerald City was under siege from General Jinjur and her army. Two couches form its body, while four palm fronds function as wings. A broom serves as a rudder, and the mounted head of a Gump provides intelligent guidance. This entire assemblage was animated with the power of the magical Powder of Life owned by the boy Tip. Once the emergency was over, the Thing chose to be disassembled into its components. While the Gump’s head still bears the enchantment of life and speaks whenever he chooses, all of the Thing’s other pieces have resumed their previous, unliving, roles around the palace.

Friday, August 27, 2010

ARRRRR!!! A Pirate's Life For Me!

As the PDF version of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road nears completion, one of the things that must be addressed is data piracy. More specifically, how afraid should I be that my book will be pirated?

The answer seems to be a fairly qualified “not very.”

In spite of what some people claim, a pirate copy is not necessarily a lost sale. There are a couple of reasons for this:

Some people download pirated RPGs as a form of “free trial.” If they like the game, they will purchase it legitimately. A few small publishers will even include a note in their games to the effect of “I know you pirated this. I’m just a regular joe like you trying to make it in this business. Please help a guy out by paying for this.” in order to encourage this effect.

Also, there are those who say that the people who pirate RPGs weren’t going to pay for them anyway. They just like raiding torrent sites to see what they can get for free. One story I read has a guy joining an online session of an RPG, only to discover that the Narrator of the game had pirated the rulebooks. He also noticed that the Narrator was very poorly organized and didn’t know the rules as well as a Narrator should. This player came to the conclusion that since the Narrator hadn’t paid for the book, he wasn’t invested in it and didn’t really care about the game he was running.

This makes a degree of sense. One of my favorite old saws is “The Story of the $20 Kittens.” Now you might have seen someone giving away free kittens from a cardboard box outside the grocery store or something similar. The person who told me this story saw a similar scene, but rather than saying “Free Kitenz”, the sign on the cardboard box read “Kittens $20.” Now these kittens weren’t terribly different from the free variety, so my source felt compelled to ask what made these kittens so special.

The people selling the kittens explained that if they gave the kittens away for free, the people who received them would not attach value to the kitten, and potentially mistreat them. But if you give the kitten a cost, it therefore has value. And a valued kitten will get a much better home than one that does not have a value attached.

Another reason not to fear piracy: I’m just a small fish in a pretty big pond. If AiO is getting pirated, I tend to view it as a sign of success. There’s enough of a demand that someone found a value in making it available via pirate channels.

And all of the potential headache is worth it for the payoff it creates. Putting the game up on PDF sites increases the places it is available by 4 or 5. The lack of manufacturing costs means that I can sell it for less while still making money.

Some of the biggest marketing successes of the last two years have been due to PDFs. In 2009, Paizo Publishing released the electronic version of the rulebook for their Pathfinder RPG for only $9.99. Considering that the print version had an MSRP of $49.99 (it was a full-color, very thick hardcover book), this made a lot of progress towards making Pathfinder one of the RPGs to watch ever since.

Some publishers take advantage of the format to release books before they’re technically ready. Since PDF retailers allows their customers to re-download the file if the publishers revise them, those early adopters are not left out in the cold. Steve Jackson Games has taken to releasing the PDF first and encouraging their customers to report errata for the book before it is sent to the printers. Evil Hat released their Dresden Files RPG electronically before the layout was finalized.

While I’m tempted to try something like this (I do have a preliminary draft of the PDF), I do not feel confident that I can pull off the same stunt. Since this is my first product and I do not have an established reputation, the first impression people will have of me will be the game that I release. If that is imperfect, or not the best it could be, then my chances of eventual success will be much reduced.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Princess Ozma's Birthday is coming!

Do you have a present ready?

In honor of Princess Ozma's birthday, August 20th, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is going on sale. For the next 5 days, it will be $5 off the cover price. Instead of $14.99, the game will be only $9.99.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Save vs. Boxed Text

For those of you who have purchased pre-written adventures (rather than writing your own), you are familiar with boxed text. It is text that is usually set aside from the rest of the adventure and intended for you to read aloud to your players. "The Jaded City of Oz", the sample adventure in my book, includes such "boxed text", though I mention it in quotes because it's not boxed.

The idea is that the guy who wrote the adventure is helping out the Narrator by feeding him descriptions of the various things that the player's characters encounter. This is good. But there is a wrong way to do it. Some friends of mine are currently playing through a pre-written adventure for D&D and laughing at a lot of the mistakes that the writer made in writing these descriptions.

Overwrought: The "dungeon" in the scenario is actually a haunted house, so the writer is clearly going for "spooky" descriptions. But they can easily sound clumsy, like the writer is trying too hard to be scary. And they tend to be long, comparatively speaking. Especially since each room of the mansion is accompanied by a paragraph of spooky description. This really undermined any attempt at a horror scenario, as we found ourselves making jokes about "save vs. boxed text" (for non-D&D nerds, a save, or saving throw, is a die roll made to avoid a particular hazard).

Useless: In at least one instance, a paragraph of supposedly evocative boxed text is followed by "There's nothing of interest in this room." Meaning that the full minute we spent listening to the Narrator read that paragraph was pretty much wasted. Good boxed text should present the players at least one thing in the room to interact with. It doesn't have to be plot relevant, but it should be something. Give me a brick wall so I can search for the secret brick that opens the hidden door. It doesn't matter if the hidden door doesn't exist. It would have been more effective if the Narrator had simply said "The room is creepy looking. Here's the door to the next room."

Inconsistent: While the main floor of the haunted house had long descriptions, by the time we got to exploring the basement, the descriptions got a lot more succinct. What happened? Did the writer get tired? Run out of synonyms for "dark"? Even though there was a very scary monster in the basement, the boxed text provides no build-up to this.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Toto

First of all, a correction. My last posting stated that GenCon was last weekend. GenCon is actually this weekend, starting today. I regret the error and hope everyone who is going to GenCon has a blast. If you take your copy of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road along with you, please spread the Oz love by running a game for your con-friends.

This month's Character of the Month is actually one that I've wanted to do for a while. If often stated that one of my design goals was the ability to re-create any Oz protagonist. To demonstrate how serious I am about that, I present Toto, suitable for playing in your AiO game.

Name: Toto
First Appearance: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Template: Small Animal
Size: 1

Athletics: 4
Awareness: 3
Brains: 2
Sneaking: 3
Presence: 4 (Growl)
Wits: 3

Traits: No Arms

Friends List


Friday, July 30, 2010

Adventures in Staying At Home

This certainly has been an exciting week. Wish I was there.

Last weekend was the San Diego Comic Con (congratulations on those two Eisners, Eric!) as well as Winkie Con. This upcoming weekend is GenCon, one of the first (and certainly the biggest) RPG conventions out there. And during this week, it is Read an RPG Book In Public Week.

The only thing I've been able to participate in was Read an RPG in Public Week. But then, this is something I do anyway. My Facebook Friends and Fans have seen my photo of me reading AiO at the local Starbucks. The funny thing is, that was pretty much a publicity stunt. Sure, I read the book on my own (it's full of good stuff), but later that day, I wound up taking my D&D Dungeon Master's Guide to work with me so I could do some research for my current game.

I would have loved to attend any of the events going on right now, but traveling is a rather expensive proposition for me. DunDraCon is largely paid for by my tax return (I have to e-file to make sure that I get it in time). Hopefully, next year I will have some extra income from sales of the game, which should help me get out a bit more and drum up more sales of the game.

So remember, if you want to see me at Winkie next year, buy my stuff!

On a related note, the layout for the PDF version of the game is nearing completion and I'm hoping it will be done by next month. Even if it's ready sooner, I'm tempted to delay release until August 20th (Princess Ozma's birthday). This is mostly because I missed that date last year with the game.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Defining Success

This entry is not about success in roleplaying games, but in the RPG industry. How do you know when you've "made it" as an RPG publisher?

So I've done some thinking and come up with a couple of milestones to guide me along the way to success.

1st) "I'm free!": 81 sales. This is the amount of sales I need to have everyone paid off that I currently owe. Publishing something as lovely as AiO is an expensive proposition and I still owe people money for helping me put it together.

2nd) Schmuck: 100 sales. There's a bit of "common knowledge" that says "Any schmuck can sell 100 of anything."

3rd) "Don't laugh, it's paid for": 237 sales. This is about the point where I have actually earned back all of the money I spent on getting the game produced. Now I can talk about getting the money back from all the marketing expenses (which I'm trying to keep low, anyway).

4th) "Made it": 300 sales. This is the point where I can declare myself a survivor of the rat race that is self-publishing. It's not a record, but a badge of honor for my experience.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Crimes of Dr. Pipt

Dr. Pipt is a character who showed up in The Patchwork Girl of Oz and is the creator of the titular heroine. He is also known as the Crooked Magician because his body is rather crooked and he practices magic in defiance of the laws of Oz.

As I was reading the story as research for AiO, it felt a little jarring to have Dr. Pipt's magic stripped from him at the end of the story. He's not a villainous character, nor is he unsympathetic, and yet Ozma treats him much like a criminal in the climax of the story. So what did he do that was so terrible?

1) Improper storage of magical liquids. This is what creates the main thrust of the story, as the Liquid of Petrifaction is spilled on Unc Nunkie and Margolotte which requires Ojo to undertake his journey in the first place. But it's not his only crime. Read on.

2) Improper use of magic to solve a mundane problem. Bungle the Glass Cat was originally created to catch mice around the Pipt home. To drive home this particular lesson, it backfired on him. Bungle has no stomach with which to digest mice and her other features are notable enough that she's rather pay attention to those. (Baum repeats this theme in a conversation between Dorothy and Ozma in Glinda of Oz)

3) Animation with intent to enslave. Probably a strong term there, but it's accurate. Scraps was intended to be a servant. Her original batch of magical brains was intended to make her competent and complacent in her role as maid. It was Ojo's additions that made her a unique and independent character.

4) Animation and abandonment. This is poor Vic, the living phonograph. He was brought to life when Scraps knocked the Powder of Life from Dr. Pipt's hand. He likes to do what he has been built for, which is to play the record on his turntable, but it's a horrible record and so he is cast out by Dr. Pipt.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Why Go Beyond The Deadly Desert?

As I still have a plan to put together "Adventures in Oz: Beyond the Deadly Desert", I must pose the question: Why did L. Frank Baum go beyond the Deadly Desert in his Oz stories? Why didn't he just set all of his action there?

I think the answer is: Because it wouldn't have been realistic. Part of the charm of Baum's writing is that there is a level of realism (or more accurately, verisimilitude) along with the fantasy. And despite the Oz fandom's love of tornadoes as plot devices, notice that Baum only used it once. Because to use it more than once would be to stretch credulity just a little too much. Do it three times and you've completely battered any suspension of disbelief into the ground.

In fact, Baum's first Oz sequel, The Land of Oz, doesn't even include Dorothy. This is probably because he thought that bringing Dorothy back to Oz would have been hard to do believably. And when he did bring her back in Ozma of Oz, she doesn't return to Oz, but finds herself in the neighboring land of Ev. Because he had already established that Oz is surrounded by desert and to use a shipwreck to bring Dorothy directly to Oz would have been a cheat.

Then, in The Road to Oz, Baum introduces his Oz readers to a number of characters from his other stories, functionally tying those non-Oz stories into Oz lore. This process becomes complete with Scarecrow of Oz bringing Trot and Cap'n Bill to Oz. So now we've got lots of interconnected material to draw from that happens outside the borders of Oz itself.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Shaggy Man

A couple of announcements first: Another round of complimentary copies of the game went out today, mostly to thank people who helped me out with the game (you know who you are) but a couple of them went to the good folks at Indie Press Revolution, a consignment distributor of independent games. These copies will not be for sale, but for review. IPR is unique in requiring that products be reviewed before they are accepted for distribution. This not only helps them maintain a high standard of quality for their products, but it also means that the people selling the game have actually read it and have a better idea of how to sell it.

Also, I have recently obtained the domain and am in the process of migrating my old site there. A lot easier to remember than the old URL.

Now, without further ado, I present our Oz Character of the Month for July, The Shaggy Man.

Name: Shaggy Man
First Appearance: The Road to Oz
Template: Wanderer
Size: 3

Athletics: 3 (baseball)
Awareness: 2
Brains: 2
Sneaking: 2
Presence: 3
Wits: 2

Traits: Magic Item (The Love Magnet [AiO rulebook p 41]), Poet (2 points)

Friends List

Johnny Dooit

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Food for thought

I actually have a pretty ambitious post in the works, but it's not ready yet. Maybe next week.

For now, let's think of all of those bits in the Oz stories that you may not notice when you're younger, but can become really odd or creepy when you grow up.

Like the Tin Woodman. After trading in his meat body for metal, he searches for a heart. Fairy tale character, or the ancestor of all cyberpunk?

Princess Langwidere: Someone who treats heads as just another fashion accessory. Up-and-coming trendsetter, or body horror?

Anybody got any others?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Few Random Things

I actually had a pretty cool blog post in mind for this week, but never found the time to write it.

So I'll start by wishing Happy Birthday to fellow Oz blogger Jared Davis. I don't know how old he is, and I'm enough of a gentleman not to ask.

And now I direct your attention to the Daily Ozmapolitan, where the intrepid Blair Frodelius has posted an interview with yours truly. For those of you who would rather listen, here's a blast from the past: Jared's Royal Podcast of Oz from September of last year, where he interviewed me on the same topic.

Last, but certainly not least, don't forget that this Saturday is Free RPG Day. Check the site to see if a retailer near you is participating this year. If not, you know what to do: "I want my Free RPG!"

Happy Father's Day this Sunday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Prince Inga - Redux

There were a couple things I wanted to do with Prince Inga as my Oz character of the month. First of all, I had not yet presented any characters using the Noble template and I wanted that to get some exposure. Also, I wanted to show a character that began play with a magic item, to demonstrate how that works. But once I sat down to do it, I realized that his pearls took up too many of his points and made him distinctly unimpressive without them.

So here's a revised version of Prince Inga that puts the Pearls of Pingaree on his Friends List where they don't cost him skill points. Instead, he'll have to spend an Oz Point whenever he wants to use them.

Name: Prince Inga
First Appearance: Rinkitink in Oz
Template: Noble
Size: 3

Athletics: 3 (Tree Climbing)
Awareness: 2
Brains: 3
Presence: 3
Sneaking: 1
Wits: 4

Traits: None


The Pearls of Pingaree

Note: Although Prince Inga is known to be rather young, his thoughtfulness and general maturity lead me to think of him as an older youth. So I've left his Size at 3 (adult size) rather than reducing it to 2 (child size).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Prince Inga of Pingaree

While there are plenty of examples of characters using templates like "Child in Oz" or "Crafted Person", not so many characters count as "Nobles". At least not among main characters. And, for added challenge, Prince Inga has the Magic Pearls, magical items that are integral to his adventures.

Name: Prince Inga
First Appearance: Rinkitink in Oz
Template: Noble
Size: 2

Basic Skills

Athletics: 1 (Tree Climbing)
Awareness: 2
Brains: 2
Presence: 2
Sneaking: 1
Wits: 3

Traits: Magic Items (Blue Pearl, Pink Pearl, White Pearl) (6 points)

Friends List

King Rinkitink

Blue Pearl

Power: Help/Hinder, +2 Athletics (2)
Scope: Self/Person/Object (0)
Ritual: None (0)
Item: Unlimited Use (-1)
Effect Power: 1
Description: This pearl has the ability to grant whoever carries it +2 to all Athletics rolls to attempt feats of strength.

Pink Pearl

Power: Wishing (5)
Scope: Self/Person/Object (0)
Ritual: None (0)
Item: Unlimited Use (-1)
Effect Power: 4
Description: This pearl causes whoever owns it to become immune to all harm from any source.

White Pearl

Power: Divination (2)
Scope: Self/Person/Object (0)
Ritual: Simple (0)
Item: Unlimited Use (-1)
Effect Power: 1
Description: This pearl speaks with a small voice that always seems to give good advice. The ritual required to use it is simply asking the pearl a question and holding it to your ear to hear the response.

Note: This is actually a very ineffective build for Prince Inga. His magic pearls cost more points than he is normally allowed, so a few points were trimmed from his Basic Skills to compensate. Another possibility would be to treat the magic pearls as his starting Friend, allowing him to call on their powers for the cost of an Oz Point.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Simian Circle Design Contest - I'm out

As much as I hate to say it, I will be dropping out of the Simian Circle Design Contest this year. While I do have some ideas for a new game inspired by the contest rules, I will not be able to have things ready by the deadline, which is in just a few days. There were a few reasons for this, only some of which was Oz related. Most of it was work/scheduling related. I'm hoping that will improve soon, because it has also prevented me from starting on Beyond the Deadly Desert, the setting supplement for AiO.

Remember, the coupon code FLOWERS, which gets you 10% off your purchase of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road at, expires at midnight on May 31st.

Also, check out the free downloadable map available on and on my website if you have any problems reading the map in your book. I'm working on getting that printing glitch fixed ASAP.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Really Bugs Me!

I buy the Oz books as Christmas gifts for my niece, so it's not surprising when Amazon sends me one of those "You bought X, so you might like Y" emails. The irritating part is seeing someone putting up their own editions of the books (incredibly easy in the POD era) and not really caring. Not even trying to pretend that they didn't just download them from Project Gutenberg and put them up somewhere else.

Look at this. Or this. Neither of these offers are going to get my dollar. I'd rather spend money on something that is really well put together, like this.

One of the reasons that AiO has been delayed as long as it has (remember when I wanted to get it out on August 21st, 2009?) is that I wanted to produce a quality product. There has to be art And it has to be good art. I've been very lucky that a number of artists have been able to produce some really top-notch stuff without breaking the bank. And my layout person, Jess McDevitt, has done a topflight job of making the whole thing look really good, too. Check this out:

(And an extra bit of news: After several attempts, I have been unable to get CreateSpace to accept my files. This is mostly due to the charming border design you see on the sample page. Since it adds so much to the book, I'm not in favor of changing or removing it. So no CreateSpace.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Adventures in Oz Now Available!

When I was a kid, every New Year's Eve my dad would let us stay up until midnight. Midnight in New York, anyway. Over here in California, that translates to about 9 o'clock. It was later than we usually got to stay up (bedtime was at 8 in those days), but us kids still felt cheated.

But the good news is that I know 9PM California time is midnight in Chittenango, New York, L. Frank Baum's birthplace. And since we don't know what time he was born, midnight on May 15th is good enough for me.

Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
is on sale now! And until May 31, you can use the coupon code FLOWERS to save 10% at checkout!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Here are pictures!

Finally got the camera working, so now you can take a look at the new book for yourself!

It is mine and it is glorious!

I have in my hands right now (you know what I mean) my proof copy from Lulu of my game, Adventures in Oz. I wanted to to a big unveiling, but my camera died on me. No photos, no video at the moment, but I swear to you, the book exists.

The cover image is a little offset, with a strip of green across the top, but no missing details. I opted not to put my name on the cover, since my name is not the one that's going to sell this book. It's L. Frank Baum's name that is going to sell this book and that is definitely there.

I was a bit worried that I would mis-judge the thickness of the book, making the spine look poorly done, but it actually looks fine. "Adventures in Oz" it reads, along with the product code "FDW1000". I included that as a reminder that I'm not done with Oz yet. And there may be other game lines to follow, as well. I also put the price on the back cover, so I don't forget. $14.99

The interior is very nice as well. My layout person cooked up a really neat border design, though it does come rather close to the edges at times. The pages are not perfectly centered, but again, there are no missing details, so it's not a problem.

The layout looks even better than it did browsing it on my screen, though this may just be the excitement of knowing that it's an actual product now.

Watch this space May 15th for info on how you can own this wonderful game as well!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Trot

First, a bit of news: I had planned to release the PDF version of AiO first (mainly because it wouldn't require ordering proof copies which cost money, which is in short supply for me), but the print version is currently closest to completion. Considering all of the other release dates I've set and missed, I am currently doing everything I can to get the print version ready to go.

Name: Mayre "Trot" Griffiths
First Appearance: The Sea Fairies
Template: Child in Oz
Size: 2

Athletics: 3
Awareness: 3
Brains: 1 (Sea stories)
Sneaking: 2
Presence: 3
Wits: 5

Traits: None

Friends List

Queen Aquareine, Queen of the Sea Fairies

With her father at sea most of the time, Trot spent much of her life in the care of Cap'n Bill. Fascinated by the legends of the sea, she finally got to experience them when she was invited on an adventure with mermaids. Her presence was instrumental in the defeat of Zog the Terrible. After further adventures, she found herself in the Land of Oz.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adventurers in Oz

For the most part, the people of Oz are content to live their lives in peace and quiet. Their immortal existence assures them that they will continue to live this way for as long as they like.

But some Ozites, like our friend Woot the Wanderer here (Image (c) Amanda Webb and used with permission), think that there's more to life than simply living. With a marvelous fairyland to explore, how can you stay still?

So they wander the Land of Oz, taking in all the wonderful sights and meeting all sorts of interesting people (some of whom stretch the strict definition of people). They are also welcome in the homes of the more staid Ozites, trading stories of strange lands for a meal and a safe bed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Almost there!

The last illustration has been turned in and the layout is in the process of being finalized.

I should have something available for release by May 15th (L. Frank Baum's birthday). This will likely be the PDF version of the game, which will be available from DrivethruRPG, Paizo, RPGNow, and YourGamesNow.

I am planning to wait until I get proofs from all of my POD outlets, but once I'm assured that they can print the book so it looks like I want it to, you can pick up the dead-tree edition of the game from, CreateSpace, DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

3 years in the making, Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is soon to be a reality!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Simian Circle Design Blog #3

For those who are actually looking forward to this one, here's a little bit on how I'll be using the rules to support the story.

One of my big inspirations for this sort of "cursed wanderer" genre is The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. In keeping with this idea, there's got to be a way to keep the characters moving and reinforce the price they pay for their power.

So each community that the characters enter has a Chaos Tolerance. Every time the characters lose control of their powers (something that I mentioned last time around), they cause Chaos to happen around them. Every time this happens, it eats away at the community's Chaos Tolerance. This not only provides a solid mechanic so that players can recognize when they've worn out their welcome, but also saves the GM some effort as he doesn't have to describe every little thing that goes wrong in the community when a Chaotic event happens.

Chaos tolerance is not a supernatural effect, but the power of gossip. The more random things start happening, the more suspicious the townsfolk become of newcomers. Characters can try to weather the storm of popular opinion, waiting for Chaos Tolerance to return at the rate of 1 per week as the stories become old news and less interesting, or they can try to outrun the gossip, which increases their Chaos Tolerance by 1 per day of travel.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cubicle 7 Beats The House

(This is basically just me geeking out, which is why it's not part of my regularly scheduled posting).

I just made an interesting realization about Cubicle 7, one of the hottest up-and-coming game publishers. The secret to their up-and-coming-ness is that they don't have a house system.

Now, a little background: Most RPG publishers have what is known as a "house system." That is, a ruleset that is used for most, if not all, of their games. This has a number of advantages.

For one thing, it saves a lot of effort in making games. The basic rules already exist, so you can focus on things that make a given property or setting unique. Magic spells, elves and dwarves for a fantasy world. Spaceships and laser guns for a science fiction setting.

You also have the advantage that some players will already know the rules. If they bought your horror game, they already know the basic rules behind your steampunk game and are more likely to buy it.

The downside is that not all systems represent all settings equally well. If your system is tuned towards gritty realism, it's going to fail at representing a world of whimsical fantasy.

Cubicle 7 has managed to acquire all the benefits of using a house system and dodge the downside. How did they do this? By licensing other game systems.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space uses Eden Studios' Unisystem, which was used in such popular games as the Buffy The Vampire Slayer RPG and Witchcraft. Just a few tweaks to the existing engine and you have a system that does Doctor Who very well, I'm told.

Starblazer Adventures
is based on the Starblazer comics and uses Evil Hat's FATE system (the same one used in Spirit of the Century) to represent a much more two-fisted "rock and roll" ruleset than Unisystem was.

When Cubicle 7 announced that they were doing a game based on Charles Stross' Laundry series, they also announced that they were using Chaosium's Basic Role Playing system, most famous as the rules behind the Lovecraftian horror RPG Call of Cthulhu. The amount of potential (and very easy) cross-pollination is simply staggering.

So Cubicle 7 continues to beat the house. Good luck to them.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Firing Characters (Out of a Canon!)

No, that's not a misspelling.

One thing I've always liked about RPGs is that you get to make your own character and have your own adventures and make your own mark on the game world. But when you're dealing with an RPG based on an established property (let's say, to pick a random example, Oz) you've already got a cast of protagonists who have all of the important adventures. Dorothy and company have melted Wicked Witches and saved Oz in a number of other ways throughout the stories. So if you wanted to roleplay in Oz, you've got to be Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman or Cowardly Lion, right?


When Wizards of the Coast launched their Star Wars RPG their ads featured stills from the Star Wars movies with multiple characters gathered. Even if a major character was in the frame, the ad instead drew a circle around the head of a minor character or an extra and asked the question "What's his story?" Sure, Luke Skywalker was the guy who blew up the Death Star, but he's not the only person in the Star Wars universe. And those other stories have the ability to be just as interesting and compelling as Luke's.

A lot of people seem to agree with me, because RPGs that focus solely on the main characters of the franchise are generally unsuccessful. The original Indiana Jones RPG from TSR focused solely on Indiana Jones and his compatriots. An old Doctor Who RPG (namely Time Lord) has an astonishingly complete list of stats for every Doctor and every companion to enter the TARDIS with the assumption that you are going to be playing those established characters. Neither of these games were successful, especially compared to other RPGs based on those properties that did allow original characters (such as the new game Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space)

Another problem that comes up when dealing with established characters has to do with expectations. Once a character gets a certain body of lore built up, especially if it's written by different people. Suppose that in a superhero game, someone decides to play Batman. Not just some guy who's kind of like Batman, but Bruce Wayne Batman. As a character who's appeared in thousands (if not millions) of comic books, several films and a number of TV shows, he's got a lot of background. Which means that every time somebody says "Batman would never do that!" someone else can come up with some instance in some media where Batman did just that. Suddenly, you've got everyone at the gaming table telling you how to play your character and no one agrees on what to do and, most importantly, no one's having fun.

But what about those characters that I've been putting up on the blog for the last few months? Am I suggesting that you completely ignore them?

No. My primary motivation in posting them is to show you what a character looks like and to demonstrate that my system can handle the majority of Oz character types. If someone decides to use them as their character in a game, I don't mind. Sometimes, just starting out, it's useful to have a character you're already familiar with. But I think you'll have more fun by putting your imagination to work on creating your own characters.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oz Character of the Month: Bungle the Glass Cat

Maybe I'm just a bad liar, or I'm not into the elaborately silly pranks that people try and pull on April 1st. But mostly, I only stat up one character a month and I gave you a non-Oz character last month and, as much fun as it would be to write up The Terminator for AiO, you should get something Ozzy this month.
Name: Bungle the Glass Cat
First Appearance: The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Template: Small Animal
Size: 1

Athletics: 3
Awareness: 3
Brains: 3
Sneaking: 3 (glass body)
Presence: 2
Wits: 3

Traits: Crafted, No Arms

Friends List

Scraps the Patchwork Girl

According to Dr. Pipt, her creator, Bungle is indeed a bungle. Created to catch mice, she has no stomach to digest them with, and is more interested in her own unique (and beautiful, in her view) appearance. Her body is glass with spun glass for fur, with emerald eyes, a ruby heart, and whirling pink marbles for brains. For a while, a spell cast by the Wizard made these features invisible, making Bungle a rather ordinary glass cat, but the magic didn't seem to stick.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why Self-Publishing?

There's something of a stigma associated with self-publishing. People have this idea that if you didn't go through the rigorous selection process involved in having someone else publish you, then your work is no good. So why do people do it?

If you're writing for a niche, self-publishing is often the way to go. Professional publishers often look for books that they think will sell several thousand copies in bookstores across America. If they think your book will only sell a few thousand, or even just a few hundred, they will pass you up. Oz is considered to be very niche, so it is very hard for Oz writers to get published traditionally.

Other writers may self-publish simply for the joy of seeing their name in print. This is largely where we get our concept of "vanity presses."

Self-publishing is increasingly common in the RPG sector. This is largely due to the niche nature of the industry, as companies focus on providing support for their existing successful products instead of taking risks on new properties. Also, many publishers are gamers and game designers who started their companies in order to get their babies published and everything else is secondary.

So now that I am a publisher, what am I going to do with it? Will I keep this godly power to myself? Or will I use my powers for good and help some other guy get his work out there?

I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to be successful. If I can't pick a winner that I've created, I'm certainly not going to take a risk on something that someone else sends me. Once I've got a success or two under my belt, we'll see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Importance of Being the Narrator

One thing that many newbies may not be familiar with when it comes to tabletop RPGs is the role of the Narrator, or Game Master.

One of the main things that a Narrator does is create the impetus for adventure. When I was first researching Oz RPGs (to see if anyone else had a similar idea), my Google searches turned up a lot of topics on various forums that were "Let's start a Wizard of Oz RPG!" The first few posts are where characters are decided (who's the Scarecrow, who's the Tin Woodman, etc.), then the next few posts are everyone saying hello in character. That's when the thread just dies. Without a Narrator, there's no one to say "And then the Winged Monkeys come flying in!" or "Glinda needs your help!" leaving the characters with nothing to do but exchange silly pleasantries. Some of these RPGs are able to go on longer if the players are willing to be proactive and create situations for their characters, but this seems to be fairly rare.

One thing that I found interesting was how some Internet-based RPGs will have "Stealth Narrators." That is, the moderators or other people-in-charge will have their own characters, just like the other players, but these characters are the movers and shakers in the setting. In an Oz RPG, this would be characters like Glinda, Ozma, or the Wizard. This allows them to guide the story (or stories) much like a typical Narrator in a tabletop game.

And of course, one trick that the Internet allows for is the assumption of multiple identities. So a Narrator can be signed in as Ozma and tell a player "Go talk to Glinda." Then the Narrator signs in on the Glinda screen name and lets the player interact with Glinda.

One downside of this approach is what is known as the "GMPC." This is where the Game Master has their own Player Character embedded with the rest of the party. Some GMs do this with the best of intentions, having someone there to provide a little boost to the group if they need a hint or a little backup. And since supporting cast characters are not limited to the same level/ number of points/etc. as the other players, this GMPC often winds up being more powerful than the other characters in the party. Often, the game devolves into "The GMPC Show" with this character providing most of the story potential and firepower, making the players feel like spectators instead of protagonists.

Another important function of the Narrator is the mediation of action. In a tabletop RPG, this involves handling usage of the rules as well as settling arguments and keeping everybody focused on the adventure. Because it is very possible for a discussion of the peace negotiations between the Flatheads and the Skeezers to derail into a debate about the physics of Robotech given the right group of people (All you gamers out there, tell me you haven't seen that happen).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

And Now The News

I started this blog to keep everyone informed about my RPG project. Then I got tired of silly little updates that basically equaled "No news yet" and started blogging about other stuff. Now when things do happen, it's fighting with all the other stuff in my brain.

As I write this, I am one illustration away from having all of the art for the book completed. Once that is turned in, then the layout can be finalized and the book can pretty much go up for sale.

The only thing that could create a significant delay beyond that is the ENnies. It would certainly be nice for my game to be considered for such an award (and maybe others if they come up). But the cutoff for the latest round of awards is April 30th.

My challenge is that in order to enter, the game must not only be released to the public by April 30th, but I must provide 6 copies for judging. That not only requires money (and the game itself will not have been on the market long enough to pay for itself in this regard), but proofing time (Print-on-demand may be a modern miracle, but it isn't perfect yet). And if a problem does turn up in the proofs, that'll delay things even further.

My current options are:

1) Scramble to get everything done by April 30th. This may result in a sub-optimal quality and less chance for an eventual award.

2) Delay the print version, releasing only the PDF version before the deadline. PDFs are much harder to mess up in transmission. The downside here is that the print version would not get a fair shake.

3) Delay the release of the game until I have enough good quality copies to be eligible for judging. If this means waiting until next year, so be it.

4) Deliberately delay the release until after April 30th. With no deadlines to worry about, I can prepare for next years' ENnies in relative peace. A May release does have a certain appeal, given that I can release it on L. Frank Baum's birthday (May 15th)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Character of the Month: Gord the Rogue

While this would normally be when I post an Oz character with full game stats, today is also the second anniversary of Gary Gygax's death. So in his honor, I've decided to stat up one of Gary's signature characters, Gord the Rogue.

Name: Gord the Rogue
First Appearance: Saga of the Old City
Template: Wanderer
Size: 3

Athletics: 3 (Fighting with dagger and longsword)
Awareness: 2
Brains: 2
Presence: 2
Sneaking: 3
Wits: 2

Traits: Deadly Weapon

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Simian Circle Design Blog #2

Now that we've done some brainstorming, it's time to see how it turns into a game.

Since Rainbow-signers embody change, that will probably lead in to our magic system (because every game has to have things players can't do in real life, whether it's psychic powers, magic, or the ability to pull of really crazy stunts). But I've established Rainbows as pariahs, so it should be as much a curse as it is a blessing. And since it's about change, there are no "something from nothing" effects, like fireballs or pulling rabbits out of hats. It should play a little bit more like manipulating luck, creating blessing or curses.

What comes to mind is a boiler. If you just let it boil, it will continue to build pressure until it explodes. So you have to keep an eye on it, releasing pressure as needed to make sure that doesn't happen. Turning this into a game mechanic, we have a number (call it Change) that continually rises as game time passes. 1 point per day, let's say. When the player wants to cause a change, they roll a d10 (because the contest rules say I have to use d10s) and adds the die roll and the current Change score together. If this total is 10 (a nice round number) or higher, the effect happens and pressure is relieved (Change points are reduced).

Now for the curse part. Anytime a player rolls a natural 1 (a 1 is showing on the d10) on any die roll, they must roll a Chaos check. This is just like the Change roll, adding a ten-sided die to the current Change score and seeing if the result is 10 or higher. But if this check is successful, it bleeds off a number of Change points equal to the roll result -10 (so a roll of 12 would bleed off 2 Change points). These Change points then manifest in a manner determined by the GM (spoiling milk, turn straw into gold, and so on depending on the amount of Change).

This also does a nice job of suggesting a core mechanic. Roll 1d10, add stat, get 10 or higher to succeed.

But what stats will characters have? How does the rest of the weather-based astrology fit into this? It took some Mountain Dew-induced insomnia to answer that one.

Weather is made of three basic elements: Rain, Sun, and Wind. A typical day's weather consists of some measure of each of these things. There are days where the clouds and rain keep the sun away, or that are perfectly sunny without a could in the sky, but these are more exceptions that rule.

Thinking metaphorically, someone with a lot of Sun-aspect would be very noticeable and vibrant. But also, they would have a hard time avoiding being noticed, even if they were trying to stay hidden. So how sunny it was on the day of their birth would add to social ability, but subtract from stealth actions.

Extending this idea to the other elements, Rain would add to persistence, as rain eventually erodes everything that it falls on, but penalizes perception, as rain is indiscriminate. Wind aids movement, but spends so much time acting that it doesn't think.

To chart it out:

Rain helps Endurance and hinders Perception
Sun helps Presence and hinders Stealth
Wind helps Athletics and hinders Intellect

Sounds like the Basic Skills I used in Adventures in Oz, doesn't it? That's at least partly intentional. As much as I want the mechanics to support my themes, it needs a certain level of robustness. The game needs to be able to support a variety of actions that players might attempt. The AiO list was short and sweet and meshed with my current project in at least a few points and only minor stretching was required to make the rest fit.

The big thing we can say about this list is that it's not totally fair. Some things are helped and some things are hindered, but there's no element that helps the hindered things or hinders the helped things. I'm sure if I took a more in-depth approach, I could come up with a interlocking trait scheme, but it might not be as robust or have a satisfactory payoff in terms of serving my themes. We'll see.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How I spent my Winter Vacation

I wound up not sleeping Thursday night. I got home from work at 3 AM (normal, regrettably) and wanted to make sure everything got packed and squared away before we left at 9 AM. One thing I have learned is to pack light for these things. Especially in terms of games to bring. I've seen multiple luggage carts full of games and entertainment electronics being carted into the hotel by people who would never be able to use it all over the space of the weekend. So I brought my rulebooks for GURPS, D&D, and World of Darkness, three games that are likely to come up.

This is me and the girl getting ready to go. Neither of us is driving. That would be our friend Mike, who was kind enough to take this picture before we headed out.

The trip itself was pretty uneventful, though I'm sure at least part of that was the fact that I wound up napping in the car. We got to the hotel at around 3 PM, and checked in with no major hassles.

It was at this time that I discovered an interesting glitch. I had planned to run my game "The Jaded City of Oz" on Sunday, and had printed up fliers to that effect before I left. But when I arrived, I found that references to the game being placed on Saturday. After conferring with con officials, it was basically decided that I would run the game both days. Since it did not require extra scheduling or other effort on their part and just a little bit more time on my part (and got more people to play my game), I was perfectly fine with that. After posting some hastily revised fliers, I went straight to bed and got some much needed rest.

My first run of the adventure went pretty well. I was a little nervous, since this was my first time running this particular scenario and it was also my first time running a game for kids. I was pleased to discover that all of them had some experience with RPGs, a little surprising because I think they were all under 10 years old. The surprising thing was that some of them had no familiarity with Oz at all. They hadn't even seen the MGM movie.

I failed to get pictures of the kids gaming, but I did get pictures of some of the props I used. One part of the story takes place in Fuddlecimjig (for those who have read The Emerald City of Oz) and involves a pair of mismatched Fuddles. So I went out and bought some blank puzzles and had a friend draw the characters on the puzzles. It may have been a reflection on how young they were, but they complained that the puzzles were too difficult to solve. I was actually afraid they'd be too easy.

The kids really enjoyed the story, but found the final encounter (the Jaded City itself) to be too hard. But then, I found that it was very easy to make that challenge too difficult. Although I had reserved the space for 6 hours, we played through the scenario in about 2 hours.

The Sunday session wound up not happening. Only 2 people showed up (both grownups) including a fellow who tried to build his own character. (Anton, if you're reading this, please get in touch with me. I don't know where I packed your email address.)

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play many games myself, or see many seminars. I did get a couple of fun shots from around the convention, though.

I got pictures of both the SCA and Amtgard combat demos this year, so you can see the difference between the two. As we see in this first picture, the SCA fighter is wearing something that looks actually protective. The weapons look like they have a heft to them.

The Amtgard fighter, on the other hand, is not wearing significant armor and the weapon is actually very light. One of the people there was wearing a silver lamé shirt which I'm sure counted as chainmail under their rules. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who actually had a chainmail shirt. He would play in a boffer LARP similar to Amtgard around here and was frequently disappointed that his authenticity went unappreciated. His chain shirt only counted as chain armor, while some guy wearing foam pads wrapped in duct tape or something equally silly was considered to be wearing plate armor.

Speaking of chainmail, here's something particularly interesting that I found in the Dealer's Room. Unfortunately, neither her nor her chainmail bikini were for sale, or else I might have tried to take her home with me. We did wind up supporting her booth by buying a World of Warcraft t-shirt. You can too!

Some things I did wind up buying were quite exciting, though. The stack of books is a little bit smaller this year. Blame the econony, or something.

Spirit of the Century: A two-fisted pulp RPG using the popular FATE system. FATE is a variant of the FUDGE system, so I might actually get some use out of the set of FUDGE dice that I bought a few years ago. Based on what I've read of the book so far, FATE seems like it would do Oz rather well.

Changeling: The Lost: A World of Darkness game in which the characters are all people who have been abducted by the fae and managed to escape. I have yet to read this one, but I hear much good about it.

Pathfinder RPG and Bestiary: One of the contenders to fill the gap left when the latest version of D&D wasn't what people really expected it to be. Looks like it could be fun, with a more heroic and epic bent than classic D&D. Though with all the other games out there, along with my own design efforts, it will be a while before I have time for another D&D-style game.

Battlestar Galactica RPG: While I grew up on classic Galactica and have seen any of the new stuff, this game and the underlying Cortex rules have gotten some pretty good press, so I thought I'd check it out. Overall looks good, with a much more established setting than the old show. The rules look serviceable, like a good house system should.

Robotech RPG: This is based on the classic Robotech cartoons from back when I was a kid. While I am not a fan of Palladium, I picked this up to help me out with a project I'm working tentatively titled Project BTR.

Castles and Crusades: Old-school strikes again with this one. An attempt to replicate the old-school feel with a more intuitive rules system borrowed from more modern versions of D&D (where a good Armor Class is high rather than low).

GURPS: It's becoming harder and harder to find GURPS book that I don't already have, but I was able to score some winners this year. Notably GURPS Conan and GURPS The Prisoner. I think Mongoose Publishing currently has the Conan license, but I have been sufficiently unimpressed with Mongoose that I will not be picking up anything from them. The Prisoner was based off of an old British show from the '60s that developed something of a cult following. I remember watching it on the SciFi Channel back when it was new (the channel, not the show. I'm not that old).
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