Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A DunDraConUndrum

As I do nearly every year, I'm planning to attend DunDraCon this upcoming February. For the last few years I've run two AiO demos over that weekend. But I'm thinking of changing that. Not specifically in a downsizing way, either. Some thing I'm thinking of doing as well or instead are more promotional efforts. Such as:

Seminars: Rather than just getting a small group to play my game, this would involve a (hopefully) larger crowd that I can talk to about my game.

Running another game: One of the things I love about cons is the opportunity to try new games. But sometimes the games that I want to try out are not being put on the schedule. Which tends to give me the itch to put those games on the schedule by running them myself.

While I could theoretically do all of these things, I would be a very busy man. Busier perhaps than I am at my day job. Not exactly what I would consider a vacation. And since it is my one real opportunity to get out of town in a year, I'd like to keep it feeling like a vacation. So while I'm open to doing any of these things (including my AiO demos), I don't feel like taking on all of them.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Q2 2010 Quarterly Report

This has clearly been a long time in coming. Over two years, in fact.

I've been more than a little nervous about sharing this information. Not because it's supposed to be a big secret or anything. It's because I'm afraid that the numbers are so small. Which basically makes me the kid who doesn't want to shower in gym class because he knows he won't compare well to the other boys. But we all have to grow up sometime. So even though I'm no Fred Hicks (who made a habit of sharing Evil Hat's sales figures on his own blog and now on the Evil Hat website), I'm going to flaunt my numbers to the best of my ability.

Since I am so far behind, I'll be posting one quarter per week until I get caught up. After that, I hope to keep this updated on a quarterly basis.

The first quarter I started selling AiO was Q2 (April-June) of 2010. Actually, I only started selling halfway through that quarter. Almost exactly halfway, as my release date was May 15.

 Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
Sales Channel/Product TypeAprilMayJuneQuarter SalesYTD Sales

As we see, only one format and one sales channel. Not a big start, but not a bad one, either. And next quarter is going to be an eye-opener.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

With Friends Like These...

For quite some time, I've billed the Friends List/Oz Point mechanic as a way to encourage players to make friends and be helpful as they play. But what if we could use that motivation for evil instead? While you could theoretically rebuild the Friends List into an Enemies List, that would be more work than I would ask of you (though those sufficiently motivated to do so are encouraged to tell me about it). So right now, we'll be talking about evil friends.

If all the players agree, you might choose to do a wicked (though not necessarily Wicked) campaign. Players choose villains for their Starting Friends and earn Oz Points for helping their wicked schemes. All of the characters might have a single evil patron (they are all Nomes invading Oz and so all of them choose the Nome King as their Starting Friend), or each of them takes a different villain as their patron (such as the various Wicked Witches).

Another angle, and one that I think provides an interesting moral dimension to the game, is for the Narrator to sneak in a wicked friend. Perhaps your party of Oz explorers  finds an old woman in trouble and they help her out. They're ready to accept the Oz Point they've just earned for making a new friend and to add a new name to their Friends List. And the Narrator tells them "Mombi."

If your players know the Oz stories, they should be very wary of tying themselves to Mombi, the former Wicked Witch of the North. If they don't recognize the name, then they're ready for the next stage. Because Mombi wants something. It might be small and simple to start, and it will get the players Oz Points, so they'll probably go along. But eventually, they'll realize that she's up to no good.

What makes this interesting is that the characters are now getting Oz Points for doing something that is decidedly bad. And this bribe is just as strong (in fact it's the exact same bribe) as the one to be good and helpful. And depending on who else is on a character's Friends List, you get the ability to set up some interesting conflicts.

Suppose Mombi wants Glinda's Magic Book of Records. If both Mombi and Glinda are on your Friends List, that's bound to be an interesting choice. If you steal the Book for Mombi, you get an Oz Point. If you tell Glinda about the plot and help her thwart Mombi, you get an Oz Point. Which do you choose?

Another possibility that could work for a darker campaign: Allow the players to choose Starting Friends as normal, but establish as part of your campaign setup that these people are prisoners of the campaign's villain (and since some people may enjoy taking established characters as friends, this could have an interesting impact on the setting as a whole). And in order to help and free these friends, the players must do some favors for the villain. This creates the same sort of scenario where the players are rewarded for the bad things that their characters do, but lets them retain a veneer of heroism. And if the campaign allows for the prisoners to be released and/or the defeat of the villain, all the better.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sometimes, I ponder for a long time on a blog post. Other times, they just come to me. This is one of those.

It all started with our friend Joethelawyer. Apparently, he was in a group playing through a pre-packaged dungeon that, in his opinion, sucked. And this brought a few other bloggers out of the woodwork, writing about the value of pre-packaged adventures in general. The bloggers that I've read suggest that pre-written adventures are useful, but not always as something to present directly to your players.

Noisms over at Monsters and Manuals even goes so far as to suggest that running an adventure module as written is the creative equivalent of playing a cover song or remaking a movie. And that's something that I disagree with.

Because a module should not represent the sum total of the gaming experience provided. There are some badly written modules out there, that railroad player choice and force them through a single plot. But the better ones don't. The better ones give the players lots of opportunities to make choices and make their own story out of the module.

Two great examples of adventures that give players lots of room to make choices are The Castle of the Mad Archmage (by the brilliant Joseph Bloch) and The Jaded City of Oz, the sample adventure in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. (You knew that was coming, didn't you? Purchase links are on the right.)

As a mega-dungeon, The Castle of the Mad Archmage has multiple angles of approach. There's no single path through the dungeon. There's not even a clear delineation between "plot encounter" and "side quest". (I've been running this dungeon for over a year and I'm still not sure that delineation even exists. It doesn't matter, though, because me and my players are having a blast.)

I'm running this dungeon as written, for the most part. It's so big and full of stuff that I don't feel I can prepare for it in a holistic way, so I've just been running it off-the-cuff. When I do modify the dungeon, it is mostly in terms of description. By virtue of being so vast, the descriptions tend to be terse and practical, without much in the way of "boxed text" for the players. So I make stuff up and add details.

For example, one section of the first level of the dungeon is a temple to an evil god. So at the entryway to this temple, I placed a small table with a coffee pot and some ceramic cups. Because even at evil church, they have coffee hour after the service ;)

There are empty rooms here (which I knew was one of Joe's complaints about the dungeon he played in). While I don't always fill these rooms myself, it can be fun to see what players try to do. Very often, they will simply leave them. Sometimes they'll check for secret doors, but sometimes not. The fun times are when the players decide to leave something behind in the room for the next party to discover. (This is actually something I heard happened quite a bit in Gary Gygax's original Castle Greyhawk dungeon. Gary maintained that dungeon as a persistent, responsive environment for his friends to explore. When a room was cleared of monsters or treasure discovered, that's how it was for everyone else. Likewise when the players made a deliberate change to the environment, such as writing on a wall or using a magic mouth spell to leave a message in the dungeon, Gary added it in. Sometimes these changes were helpful, but just as often, they were intended as tricks or traps set by one player against the other dungeon explorers.)

The Jaded City of Oz takes place entirely above ground, and is all the more open for it. It is a loosely linked set of scenarios, each one without a strictly defined solution. In fact, most of the scenarios do not require that their problem be solved in order to advance to the next. Although every group I've run this adventure with has engaged with every problem, they do not always come to the same solution.

Even when the solutions are similar, they're not always exactly the same. While most groups negotiate a peace between the Gloofers and the Blue Trees of Munchkinland (the first scenario of the adventure), I can only recall one group who implored the Gloofers to learn good forestry practices to ensure the health of the Blue Tree forest.

And then there are the solutions that are always different. The final encounter of the adventure, the Jaded City itself, has never been resolved the same way twice. When asked to present something that the Jaded Citizens had not already seen before, one group presented Bungle the Glass Cat (who was a member of the party). The session that I recorded at DunDraCon (and I really need to get around to editing the rest of it) answered this challenge with a giant bubble-blowing mecha.

Even though I've used these pre-written adventures extensively and with as little modification as possible, I have never been stifled as a DM/GM/Narrator while running them. My players have had broad latitude to make choices and my ability to respond to those choices is equally broad.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Time and Again

Last time, I took some time to write about the technology of Oz and how it relates to our own. Now I'm going to take a look at Oz history.

[21:17] <~Dan> Did you draw on elements from the entire series of Oz books, and does the game take place at any particular point in their chronology?
[21:17] <~Dan> Sounds like it's post-Wizard of Oz, at least.
[21:18] <+WizardofOzGuy> After a certain point in the series, about 5-7 books in, there develops a sort of status quo that never really gets challenged after that
[21:18] <+WizardofOzGuy> Ozma rules Oz, the Wizard and Glinda help
[21:19] <+WizardofOzGuy> Dorothy moves to Oz and has adventures with her friends

(WizardofOzGuy is me, of course)

In terms of settings details, I include everything I can from within the borders of Oz from all 14 of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Which would technically make the "current" moment in Oz history just after Glinda of Oz, Baum's last book.

I think Dan asked this question to address the intimidation factor of having to learn yet another world's history and other details in order to play a new game. But there's not much necessary history to Oz. There is indeed some history to the land, but none of it is truly necessary to enjoying an Oz book or an Oz game.

I have made some suggestions both in the book and on the blog regarding "historical" gaming in Oz. Because some things do change over the course of the stories and some groups and Narrators might want to reset things to before a particular change. The example that springs to mind from the AiO rulebook is the Flatheads of Flathead Mountain. In Glinda of Oz, the story that they appear in, they start as Flatheads (people with no room for brains in heads that cut off just above the eyebrows) but end the story as Mountaineers (normal people with normal brains stored in the normal place). If you want to include Flatheads in your game, you will have to go back to when they still kept their brains in cans. Or pretend that Glinda of Oz never happened, which is much the same thing.

Exploring Oz in the Four Witches Era (before Dorothy's arrival) or during the Reign of the Scarecrow is more likely to change the tone or mood of your adventures than create any real factual issues.

And there's no clear calendar in the Oz stories. So even if one event happens after another, there are very few indications as to exactly how long that is. And then there's the concept of "fairy tale time"; The idea that time in fairylands flows at a different rate than the mundane world. The Wicked Years series does this to great effect. Although Son of A Witch details the growth of Liir from boy to man in the space between the first and second Oz books (and Maguire fits two more novels into that space as well), Dorothy is still a little girl when we meet her again in Ozma of Oz.
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