Thursday, February 26, 2009

The big stack of books

Well, I told you before I left for the con that I would have a 3-4 foot tall stack of books to take home with me. Here it is.

And I warned you that I would tell you about my new purchases. Don't worry, this is just the highlight reel.

Burning Wheel and Mouse Guard: I picked up the main Burning Wheel rulebooks last year on the recommendation of Ken Hite and I was impressed. So this year I picked up the supplements Monster Burner and Magic Burner. Also this year came the Mouse Guard RPG, based on a comic series in which the heroes are civilized mice fighting for mouse civilization. I picked this one up on the recommendation of the kids-rpg Yahoo! Group that I belong to as well as (you guessed it) Ken Hite. The reason that it's mentioned here is that the RPG uses a kid-accessible version of the Burning Wheel rules as it's engine.

Someone in my shoutbox asked if I was planning on doing an RPG based on Wicked. While my own rules are more suited to a very light-hearted Oz, should the money materialize to make a Wicked RPG possible, I think I would go with the Burning Wheel as the underlying rules. Simply because the method for creating characters requires you to get into the character's past and into their head, which is one of the major ideas of Wicked; letting you into this person's life. Even if you only saw them for their few minutes of screen time, now you know and understand where that character is coming from.

Wicked: This was not bought at the con, but at the Borders at the nearby shopping center. I thought you guys might be interested in my opinion of the book after reading it. The first thing that struck me when I finished the book was "Oh my god, the Easter Eggs!" There were so many Oz references scattered here and there throughout the story. Although Maguire's Oz feels very different from Baum's, he actually does not preclude any of Baum's stories; in some cases going so far as to set them up (Dr. Nikidik, anyone?). My second thought was "He really liked 'Glinda of Oz', didn't he?" Most of the major plot points emerge from that book. Kumbric Witchcraft was what Queen Coo-ee-oh practiced. Madame Morrible setting up her students as the Three Adepts. The Goldfish in the fishwell.

Hunter: The Vigil: Now for something completely unrelated to Oz. Hunter: The Vigil is the latest in the World of Darkness line of games. Whereas most of the World of Darkness games allow you to play as a monster of some sort (Vampire and Werewolf are among their more popular lines), Hunter allows you to play a monster hunter. They tried this in an older game, Hunter: The Reckoning, but that was less impressive, I thought. For one, although Reckoning had their heroes set up to kill all sorts of supernatural creatures, they often wound up becoming quite supernatural themselves. Reckoning also required a bit more buy-in to the World of Darkness at large.

While it is possible to play a monster hunting monsters in Vigil, it is not the only option. They also support a more mundane "mortal heroes against monstrous supernatural evil" style of play. Though you can fight against vampires and werewolves, more support is given to fighting various kinds of monsters, including the supernaturally durable serial killer from many horror movies.

GURPS: Although you probably wouldn't be able to tell by the way I design games, GURPS is one of my favorite systems. Only got a few items this time around, probably because the world is running out of GURPS stuff I don't have. GURPS Myth, the licensed setting book for the Real-Time Strategy game of the same name, and GURPS Shapeshifters. I'm surprised that GURPS Shapeshifters got made, mostly because it came out 1 year before the edition change, which made most of its' rule information obsolete.

The one GURPS book that I really wanted was not sold at the con: GURPS Thaumatology. The latest in their hardcover line of wonderfully crunchy rulebooks.

For those of you who may not be aware, "Munchkin" has a negative connotation among the gaming community. It is generally taken to mean a bad player, or someone who focuses on combat effectiveness or replicating their favorite action hero of the moment instead of making their particular character interesting.

Then Steve Jackson Games had to go and make it fun. They made a card game in which each player tries to twink out their character to be ultimately badass and get the best loot. I had already picked up one of the spinoff games, Munchkin Impossible (a sendup of the spy genre), but this year I picked up a copy of the original fantasy-based Munchkin set. Both games are fun, but I'm waiting to try them both together and make a Russian Elf Tourist with Fruit Combat Training and a Sword of Decapitation (+2!). It could happen.

I finally managed to talk my gaming group into trying out "Adventures in Oz." Our first session is scheduled for Saturday. I'll let you guys know how that goes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What happens at the Con...

...stays at the con.

Not really.

We left Friday morning at about 10 o'clock. I was pleased that I had found a friend who could drive, since that meant we didn't have to take the Greyhound bus. Me and my girl had done that for a few years and found it remarkably inconvenient, but had no real way around it until now.

It was about a 7 hour drive, which would have been a bit shorter if it weren't for the snow we encountered near Legget.

We arrived at the hotel at about 5 PM only to discover the power was out. Thankfully, this being a Marriott, they were prepared and had emergency power to run elevators and get everyone checked in. However, since we arrived so late in the day, we did not get the two bed room that we had requested (1 bed for me and the lovely lady, the other for our driving companion). We were able to get a cot brought to the room for the driver, but for the most part, it seemed like we traded one set of inconveniences for another. I'm working on figuring out a more optimal scheme for next year.

Saturday morning, I was up with the dawn to run "TransFormers: Attack of the Retcons."

It went well overall, since the majority of the players were Transformers fans of old, who got all of my references. They really liked the "retcon" mechanics I had devised, especially when one character got "killed" by the Retcons. Since the character was wiped out of existence, Optimus Prime instead sent someone else on the mission, meaning he got a different character. It took a few minutes for the group to get back to playing because they were stunned by the awesome.

For the record, the little girl in the picture is a Dorothy.

I spent Sunday morning in a seminar entitled "Ain't it cool?" in which the inestimable Ken Hite (and Darren Watts of Hero Games) gave their recommendations on hot new games. I then spent the afternoon picking up some of their recommendations from the dealer room.

Then, Sunday afternoon, I got ready to run my new "Magic Belt of Oz" adventure. As it was part of their kid's program, kids were encouraged to simply drop in to play. No kids came.

After 30 minutes, two grownups walked in and asked "Is this the Oz game?" I was a little leery of running a game with only 2 players, but I decided to give it a try. It did not go well. It actually helped me realize a mistake I had made with both adventures that I had prepared.

In both cases, I assumed that the players would be familiar with the background. The Transformers players had more fun if they knew about the planet Junk and the Quintessons. The Oz player that knew some of the background had more fun than the one that didn't. So next year, my plan is to build adventures that do not require background knowledge from the start. If there's background involved, let it be revealed by the story, not assumed in order to make the story work.

Miscellaneous pictures:
This is that Ken Hite guy I keep talking about. I own and enjoy a number of the books that he has written and I was quite pleased to discover that he is a regular attendee at DunDraCon and gives wonderful seminars. As well as the "Ain't it cool?"
seminar, I was also able to attend a seminar with him on city-building for RPGs. He also did a few I was unable to attend because of the time-slots for my games.

I must also now tell the story of how I met Ken Hite in an elevator last year. We both wound up in the same elevator along with one of my con-friends, Melissa. When I realized who it was, I said "WOW! You're Ken Hite! I really enjoy your work" (Or something similar). Melissa said, "I'm not nerdy enough to know who you are."

Ken's response to this was simply priceless: "Treasure that."

He was also a great sport in allowing me to get this picture of him. I'm not in the picture with him for the main reason that I am badly in need of a haircut and do not need that immortalized, thank you very much.
This is one of the few cos-players to attend the con. Other cons have much more extensive costuming, going so far as to have seminars and fashion shows and masquerade balls. If you can't tell, she's dressed as Mara Jade from the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

Then I had to go and take pictures of dice. Most of these items were intended to be used for the Oz game. The tubes are full of green glass beads to represent Oz Points for the game, and the plastic box on the left is full of 6-sided dice to be rolled during play, green with gold pips. The plastic box in the right is a standard polyhedral dice set (1 4-sided, 1 6-sided, 1 8-sided, 2 10-sided, a 12-sided and a 20-sided die) in the same green with gold markings. That one I bought just for me. This is the first chance I've had to buy dice since most of my gaming gear got stolen several months ago.

This was a Star Trek tactical simulator game that was being run by the fellow in uniform. You can't really see it, but the display and the consoles were full of blinking and flashing lights. The "main screen" on the wall panel was the "game board" with playing pieces representing ships that were stuck to it. If I wasn't so busy with my seminars and role-playing games, I might have given this one a try.

This is another one of his consoles, featuring a Borg Cube ship model.

The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) has an active presence at DunDraCon every year, with a display table featuring their as-authentic-as-possible medieval props and combat demos with simulated weapons. Although the weapons are not deadly, they do have the ability to hurt you. The armor that their fighters wear is not simply for show.

There is also a "boffer LARP" group called Amtgard that does combat demos and such at the con as well, but I wasn't able to get pictures of them.

The primary difference between the SCA combat demos and boffer LARP combat demos is the weapons and armor. In the SCA, the swords are made of metal pipe to give them a realistic heft. In that case, you need realistic armor to protect yourself from being hit by a metal pipe. In a boffer LARP, the weapons are made of plastic pipe wrapped in layers of foam padding. Any armor you wear is largely for show, but can affect how damage is "called" during a fight.

This is just a nice little panorama I saw there. In the foreground is the shopping center right by the hotel. The background, though, was just such a lovely view that I felt the need to take a picture of it

Speaking of lovely views, I tried to get a picture of my girl, but it just didn't capture her at her best. I didn't realize that I didn't have a picture of her until the drive home, so what I did get is her looking pretty, but road-weary.

Maybe I'll post a picture of us once I get my hair cut and she's a bit more rested.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Off to the con!

In just about 24 hours, I will be on my way to San Ramon for DunDraCon. I've got both my adventures planned and set up. I'll be packing after work today. I filed my tax return as soon as I could so I'll have a good amount of spending money. And spend money, I will. Last year, I came home with a 3-4 foot tall stack of new RPG books, not to mention a plush Hound of Tindalos. I'll probably tell you guys about my new acquisitions in my next blog or two. Or three.

And I am still trying to get the Quadling Country done and I've made some inroads on the Narrator section. I'll have those up as soon as possible.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Scene it!

Late blog post, I know. I'd bore you with the reasons, but let's get on to the good stuff.

Now that we've done our brainstorming, it's time to put things together. I'm going to do that by assembling the story into scenes.

Those in the gaming world might claim that in only preparing one path for the players to follow that I'm "railroading". I would argue with that by saying 1) as an experienced Game Master, I expect to be able to improvise should the players come up with any surprises and 2) a convention adventure needs to be focused and, yes, a little bit railroad-y. As I said in a previous post, you only get one chance to game with a convention group so you have to make it count.

Scene 1
The party

I'm going to retain the introductory scene from the original "Magic Belt" adventure. It's one of the few things I liked about that adventure and I think the most "Ozzy" bit.

Scene 2

There will still be a scene with the Magic Picture, just because of it's obvious use as a detective tool. What they will see in the Magic Picture will be a Green Monkey running through town as the people literally go to pieces. Everyone may make Brains rolls to figure out what's going on. Tin Woodman and Scarecrow are more likely to recognize the final fate of Mrs. Yoop, while Dorothy is more likely to recognize Fuddlecumjig. If the players don't make their rolls, the Wizard will probably be the one to mention the Fuddles. This is the necessary piece of information. The bit about Mrs. Yoop will only become important later.

Scene 3
The Fuddles

For those who haven't read "The Emerald City of Oz", the Fuddles have a tendency to go to pieces at the slightest provocation. Puzzle pieces, specifically. So when the characters arrive there, they will find all of the citizens as piles of wooden jigsaw puzzle pieces. In order to find out where the Green Monkey went next, they will have to assemble the Fuddles. If I have the opportunity and the resources, I might just make some kind of puzzles for the players to assemble rather than just rolling dice on this one. Thank you, Escapist, for that one.

The Fuddles may not know her grand plan, but they do know that she was heading west, towards the Winkie Country.

Scene 4
The Dark Forest

When the characters arrive at the Dark Forest (right next to the China Country if you're looking on a map), they are stopped by a pack of animals just within the forest. Apparently, some Green Monkey just ran by screaming that Ozma was coming to enslave them or something. It will take some smart talking to get out of this one.

Scene 5
Yoops' Cave

The primary element of this scene is the realization that Mr. Yoop is missing. It also leads to a trail of destruction which brings the party to Mr. Yoop's current location.

Scene 6
Mr. Yoop

Defeating or placating Mr. Yoop is the focus here. As long as they succeed in one of those, he'll tell them about the Green Monkey claiming to be his wife and how she used a magical belt to make the bars of his cage disappear. He begged her to take him with her, but she refused. I may play this up for comedy with a sobbing giant and his marital problems, but we'll see.

Scene 7
Yoop Castle

Now for the big showdown. The main trick is to get the Belt off of Mrs. Yoop. Extra challenge being that she's now giant-sized again. She might even give the Belt up if properly persuaded; She does have her original shape and powers back, anyway. However, Ozma's pronouncement that there would always be a Green Monkey in Oz is quite correct. The Belt couldn't undo the transformation, merely suppress it. Once she loses the Belt, she reverts back to Green Monkey.

All in all, not a bad adventure. I've probably designed better, but I know I've designed worse. The bit about needing the Belt to maintain her shape was inserted mostly to give the adventure a "neat" ending, and it still needs to be neater. One thing that the original adventure had that I can't really come up with right off for this one is Friends List interactions. Nearly every scene had some method of calling on friends to help resolve the situation.

If all goes well, and I have time, I might just polish it up and put it on the site in the place of the old adventure.
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