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.

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