Thursday, January 28, 2010

Simian Circle Design Blog #1

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had entered a game design contest put on by Simian Circle Games. Here's the first in my series of blogs detailing my design process.

According to the rules of the contest, there are three things that my game must include: Rules that use 10-sided dice, a theme from a provided list, as well as an illustration from a provided list. (There are other requirements, but these are the important ones right now.)

The theme that jumped out at me was "Born under a bad sign" in conjunction with one of the illustrations, showing an sad old man walking away from a rainbow in the background. Put them together and I got the idea of evil rainbows.

Of course, it's not that rainbows are evil, necessarily. Just that they are a bad omen of some sort. Being born under a rainbow is considered bad luck. The idea then evolved into a weather-based astrology. If you're born under a water sign, it's not Scorpio or Capricorn, but simply that it was raining when you were born. Each "weather sign" has their own associations. Rainbows are "evil" because they're a transition between two types of weather (rain and sun) and rather temporary (unlikely to last all day, as most weather does). So being born under the sign of Rainbow means that you're shiftless, unreliable, and unlikely to remain for long.

Things still to figure out: Since "Rainbow-signers" are traditional pariahs, they make perfect wandering adventurers, going everywhere, but belonging nowhere. But as the weather-astrology takes shape in my mind, I'm getting more understanding of the other "signs." Should I make them playable? Especially since I'm planning on giving rainbow-signers the ability to cause Change (basically a form of magic), should I try to balance the other astrological gifts with that? Or simply give them lower powered gifts and say "If you really want, you can play them."

Friday, January 22, 2010

No Mangaboos This Time

Sorry for the late blog post. Minor technology explosion.

Here in California, we know we live in earthquake country. It's something of a joke to us. Especially up here in the sparsely settled North Coast, where there's just not that much to severely damage. Total damage to my house in our latest earthquake: 1 broken glass and some cracked plaster.

If you've been following the news, Haiti was hit by a earthquake a few days afterwards. And this one was no joke. Lots of damage, lots of lives lost.

OneBookShelf (operators of DriveThruRPG and RPGNow) has started a fundraising drive to support Doctors Without Borders as they provide disaster relief in Haiti. If you contribute $5 or $10, OBS will match your donation. A contribution of $20 comes with a download coupon for a huge stack of gaming PDFs. (Were Adventures in Oz fit for public consumption, it would be on the list. I'm still about 4 illustrations away from completion.)

As I'm writing this, the total money raised is around $94,000. With your help, this can go even higher.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mighty, Mighty Munchkin!

This one was inspired by a couple of Christmas gifts I got for my nephews. I had sometimes brought over my copies of Munchkin and Munchkin Impossible to family gatherings, and they seemed to get a kick out of it, so I got them their own Munchkin games: Munchkin Fu and Star Munchkin.
Wait a second! These aren't the friendly Munchkins that Dorothy meets when she first arrives in the Land of Oz. What happened here?

While L. Frank Baum did certainly invent the term, Steve Jackson is actually having fun with a use of the word as it is used by gamers. It entered gaming slang as a quick way of saying "This is a character my kid brother would play" or "This guy plays like my kid brother." Who hasn't called one of their younger relations "the little Munchkin"?

Because when you're young, there are many aspects of an RPG that are hard to get. Especially since older versions of D&D could seem like they're played on a game board (remember that D&D started life as a miniatures wargame, so a grid-based map and miniatures were very common props), younger players would often import ideas from other board games, like the need to win or compete with other players, which would conflict with the new medium, which was much more cooperative. So these "munchkin" players focused on "winning" the game, which in those days meant killing the most monsters, gathering the most loot and trying to maximize their ability to do those things.

The word grew into a general insult, as people tended to refer to anyone who played in a manner they didn't like or weren't used to as a "munchkin".

So now that there's an upcoming Oz RPG, will there be munchkins in Munchkinland? It's possible. I actually designed the fighting rules to be rather unsatisfying to that sort of player. Nobody dies in Oz, so no amount of damage will result in a kill. You can inflict permanent consequences on an opponent by cutting off body parts, but once you cut off a fellows arms and one leg, he'll be hopping away as fast as his remaining leg will carry him. He might even head to the nearest tinsmith to obtain harder-to-damage replacements.

And the way to advance in the game is not by fighting, but by helping other people and making friends. While some fights might come up, they are not the focus of play. If there is such a thing as a "power build" character it would actually be a high Presence build, probably based on the Noble template. The ability to demand a surrender before an opponent has had their Wits score reduced is significant. High Presence skill means that you're fun at parties, too.

At one time, I thought it might be fun to come up with a community in the Munchkin Country to make fun of all the gaming cliches out there, but after over 30 years, there's simply too much. To get an idea, check out the webcomics Order of the Stick, DM of the Rings and Nodwick. All very funny stuff.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I'm okay, really

For those of you who have heard of the 6.5 earthquake that hit northern California yesterday, I just want you to know that I am okay. My house lost power for about 12 hours and my D&D group was too busy cleaning up and getting in touch with family to play today, but that's pretty much the worst of it. The only worry I have now is whether or not my workplace will be functional when I get there tomorrow.

UPDATE: My workplace was fine and I went back to work the next day. Here are a couple of links to news stories about the quake. Yahoo! (I live just a few blocks from Eureka Natural Foods) and the Times-Standard (the local newspaper)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Building Character

Most people take advantage of the new year to work on their characters. Here at Adventures in Oz HQ, we couldn't agree more. To help you out with this, I'm going to take some time to talk about the choices you'll face as you build a character for Adventures in Oz.

Most of the time, you'll start with an idea of what you want your character to be like. Some people like to be fancy and call this a "character concept", but the important thing is that it's a character that you want to portray.

The easiest way to choose a template is to decide which existing Oz character your original character most resembles. Is the character a young child like Dorothy or Ojo? Use the Child in Oz template. Are they an artificial person, like the Scarecrow or Tik-Tok? Then use the Crafted Person template.

But what do you do if your character doesn't fit neatly into one of the templates? What if you want to play out the further adventures of the Tin Soldier from The Tin Woodman of Oz? Would you use the Crafted Person template or the Soldier template? You get to make a choice. Do you think he is defined more by his tin nature or his military career?

You can also look at the skills that each template gets. Neither the Crafted Person or Soldier template get any standout skills (rated at 3), but both templates get two skills rated at 1. For the Crafted Person, they are Sneaking and Presence, while the Soldier template has Brains and Wits at 1. Brains are not a significant portion of the Tin Soldier's character, and he doesn't seem like the type to be sneaking, considering his clanking tin body, so those skills don't really help us make that decision.

So it comes down to choosing between Wits and Presence. While you can certainly raise either of those skills with points (notice that no points have been spent yet!), let's see what can be had for free. The reason that the Soldier template has such a low Wits is to accommodate the buffoonish soldiers that appeared in the Oz stories (notably the Army of Oogaboo in Tik-Tok of Oz). The Tin Soldier was not a buffoon, so that doesn't fit as well. However, his cold tin heart might be a justification for sticking him with a low Presence score. So finally, after 3 paragraphs, let's settle on the Crafted Person template.

Now that we have our template selected, it's time to spend those skill points. The Crafted template includes the Crafted Trait, but we will have to purchase the Deadly Weapon trait to represent Captain Fyter's sword. Also, he is as vulnerable to water as the Tin Woodman is, so we must make sure to purchase a Weakness. So two points have been spent and one has been returned (since a Weakness is a drawback, characters who have them get points back).

For skills, he will likely want to improve his Athletics and Wits, since both are very useful to a fighting character. Let's also put a point into Presence, so that he can more easily command troops and demand a surrender from a foe.

Wait a second! Didn't we just go through three paragraphs deciding that Presence was not very important to this character? Kind of. One of the fun parts of using the template system is that it encourages you to make choices and decisions about the character to help you get a firmer idea of who the character is.

Only two choices left. Pick a skill specialty and choose a friend. His friend is easy: Nick Chopper. After their adventure to propose to Nimmie Amee, it's hard to believe that they wouldn't become fast friends. The skill specialty is a bit tougher. For simplicity, I will give him the "Sword" specialty for his Athletics skill. This also helps him mirror the Tin Woodman somewhat, in that I gave him the "Ax" specialty when I wrote him up.

Name: Captain Fyter, the Tin Soldier

Template: Crafted Person

Size: 3

Athletics 3 (Sword)
Awareness 2
Brains 2
Presence 2
Sneaking 1
Wits 3

Friends List

Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman

You know, this is kind of fun. If anyone wants to throw out any other Oz characters for me to write up, drop me a line.
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