Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thou Shalt Not Plot?

I recently found this interesting bit of Game Master advice. A whole book of it, actually.

As a Game Master of moderate experience (ten years, off and on), I tend to take tomes like this with a grain of salt. Not because I already know most of it (I'm still learning new things), but because Game Mastering is very individual. The guy who wrote this prefers a very character-oriented sandbox approach. This is certainly fine, and he provides a decent set of tools for doing this.

But every so often, he feels the need to stand up on his soapbox. These really stand out because the majority of his writing is neutral/dry. In fact, his rants are the only part of the book that I have more than simply skimmed, because they stuck out so strongly against the overall dry writing style that he uses everywhere else.

The first major rant is against video games that call themselves RPGs. While I agree with this, it seems a little odd to wind up in a book of Game Mastering advice. Anyone looking for a book on GMing is going to know the difference between a tabletop RPG and a console RPG. Something possibly more helpful would be advice to the poor schmuck who's trying to figure out how to escape the traps of trying to run a tabletop game as if it was a console RPG.

The one that gets me, though, is his rant against plotting. The idea that by devising a plot, you've created a foregone conclusion and therefore there's no point in playing it out, because the ending is already written. I've seen this complaint numerous times on RPG forums, more often from players, though. "Don't railroad me!" they whine. "If the GM has anything prepared for the session, he's railroading me and trying to crush my soul!"

Well, here's the thing. I plot. And I never railroad. If I wind up tossing out my plot notes 5 minutes into the session, I'm okay with that. But those notes were still useful, because they got me thinking about what comes next. Even if the players don't do what my plot says, those things that I put in my notes are still out there. People that they could meet, even if they didn't have the dialog I wanted them to initially. Places that are out there, even if they didn't go there this session. Am I going to make them go there next session? No, because I don't make the players do anything.

I don't world-build extensively. I'd rather focus on those things that are directly in front of the players rather than populate the 7 Islands of Doom that the players will never go to. I'll wait until the players decide to go there before investing any serious effort.

Another important lesson here is that everyone is different, and that includes GMing styles. Kris Newton, a friend of mine and writer of "The Jaded City of Oz" adventure, has his own method of doing things which doesn't resemble my methods or Brian Jamison's. But they have all led to some rather enjoyable games.

I find it rather useful to look over the Game Master sections of every game that I own, because each has a different approach and each one has things to teach me. But I will rarely consider any one method or suggestion as superior. Which is one of the other ways this book bothers me. No matter how much experience you have as a GM, yours is not the One True Way. If it's a good way, I might borrow some ideas and some of your advice. But it would be very unlikely to make me abandon those things that my own experiences have taught me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Magic of Friendship

In Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road (if you don't have it yet, check the links over on the right), the main way for characters to grow in power is to make friends. This certainly works for Dorothy, who spends much of the stories making friends with powerful people and then calling in potent favors.

But what about the Wizard? In his appearances in Wizard and Dorothy & the Wizard, he is firmly in the mode of humbug wizard, relying on tricks and gizmos to make it through. But by Road, he is shown using actual magic. How does AiO account for that?

I did include a rule that players could spend significant sums of Oz Points to permanently increase a character's abilities. But something occurred to me recently: Why couldn't we just say that the Wizard has Glinda on his Friends List? So instead of purchasing the Sorcery Trait, he simply spends an Oz Point to call on Glinda every time he uses magic?

It's actually rather cool that the game features multiple ways to do the same thing. Just like how the Tin Soldier could be built as a Crafted Person or a Soldier.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Errata Cadabra!

Everyone makes mistakes. As much as I worked to make AiO the best Oz game out there, some things slipped through. For the most part, it was a lot of extra apostrophes when it came to "its" (Even though there is a nifty song to help you remember). But there was one mistake that could keep people from enjoying the game.

In Chapter 4, the magic rules, most of the chapter is devoted to helping you figure out the Effect Power of a spell, but no specifics on what to do with that number. Well, here it is: The Effect Power of a spell is intended to serve as the penalty on the Brains roll made to cast the spell. So if the Effect Power of a spell is 3, you must succeed at a Brains roll with a -3 penalty to successfully cast it.

I also meant to include an example of spell casting, but I wound up doing some pretty heavy changes to the magic rules late in the process (which is probably why that mistake got through). While adding it back into the book would be pretty heavy work for my layout person (and irritate the people who have already bought it) I can put up an example here.

Let's say that the Wizard of Oz is traveling with a group of friends and the time has come to set up camp. He asks around and gets three handkerchiefs which he will proceed to turn into tents using Transmutation magic. This is Power 3 according to the Transmutation table on page 35 of the book.

Now to figure Duration. Transmutations are usually permanent and have a Duration of 2. But if the caster specifies a way to end the effect, it goes down to 0. Since the Wizard want to make cleanup easy in the morning and is sure his friends want their handkerchiefs back, he designates a magic word that he will say in the morning to end the spell. Duration 0.

The Scope of the spell is 2, as it affects a Group of 3 handkerchiefs.

The Effect Power is currently 5 (3 + 0 + 2), which is pretty high. Which brings us to the last element of the spell: Ritual. This give you a chance to buy down the cost of the spell by making lots of effort in the casting. The Wizard attempts a Poetry Ritual, making a roll against his Presence skill. He has the Poet trait, so he takes no penalty on the attempt. His highest successful result is a 3, providing a Ritual modifier of 3. Poetry rituals are chancy, but this one paid off nicely.

Once all factors are considered, the final Effect Power of the spell is only 2. The Wizard makes a Brains -2 roll (and maybe spends an Oz Point or two) and camp is set up and ready to go.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

I actually did pretty good on my resolutions for 2010. There are only 2 things on that list that didn't wind up happening. I wound up dropping out of the Simian Circle Design Contest and I only published one item for sale, rather than the 2 I had hoped.

Slightly humbled (but only slightly), I bring you my resolutions for the year 2011.

Think smaller. As much as I would love to put out something big and huge like Beyond The Deadly Desert, it's a rather expensive proposition. Perhaps something smaller that will help bring money in to pay for the big projects. I've got the characters pack close enough to say it should be ready by February.

Other things on the todo list include an adventure scenario (another resource-light moneymaker) and Wicked Roads (tentative title for my Dark Oz sourcebook). Whether all of this happens this year is hard to say.

Also, I really need to get into stores. And the big key to that seems to be getting a strong grip on my manufacturing costs. Currently, my manufacturing cost at Lulu are nearly 50% of my retail cost. To get into distribution profitably, I need to fit my manufacturing costs into below 40% of my retail price. Lower than that if I want to make a significant profit.

I'd also like to do at least one more podcast this year, hopefully 2.

Also, I have had an idea to do a supplement for the Pathfinder RPG. While psionics rules have been in the D20 System for a long time, they've never really felt like psionics in any other media. So I've decided to come up with a feat-based model (not feat and skill, like some other attempts) that feels a little more like the psychics we read about in novels and see on TV.

More personally, I've got to get back in the saddle as a Game Master. I had a campaign fall apart for a number of reasons, including scheduling, work stress, and a few system issues last year. And with the other GM in my group getting hit by a car (he survived and is recovered and back to work and play), my own gaming life is running pretty low right now.

One campaign idea that I had would be GURPS Greatest American Hero. The characters in that game would be granted dorky looking supersuits and forced to master the powers they receive. I chose GURPS because it's the only system I'm aware of that has rules for sucking at your powers. I just need to finish building the home city and find some players to go in it.

Also, I'm interested in starting up an Oz campaign using AiO. While Skype sessions would make interesting podcast fodder, it may turn out that scheduling is enough of an issue that a play-by-post format would be better, allowing the players to contribute when they had time to do so, rather than on a set schedule.


As much as I don't normally go for netspeak, something happened yesterday that absolutely boggled my mind.

First, a little background: Some time ago, OneBookShelf, the operators of RPGNow and DriveThruRPG struck a deal with POD printer Lightning Source to provide print products via those sites.(Though it is only recently that this has gone live).

Needless to say, I'm all over this. The ability to offer my customers both print and PDF with a single click? And at a nice bundled price? What's not to love?

But there have been problems. A tiny glitch in the file caused the some of the illustrations to come out pixellated, like this piece by S.P. Maldonado:

And this picture is of my second proof copy, after I requested that my layout person perform a little file massage. I have recently requested a more extensive file surgery to attempt to repair the glitch.

While this is irritating, it's not that big of a deal. Glitch or no, Lulu has been providing decent quality printing of my game for some time now. So my customers can purchase print copies there no matter what, right?

I recently ordered a copy from (always reliable) Lulu to show around to people (having misplaced the last one I had when I moved a few months ago). It arrived last night, in optimum condition. Here's that same S.P. Maldonado piece, the way it should look.

Here's the weird part: As I examined this new copy, I noticed a couple of small touches that indicated this copy was printed by Lightning Source. As in the same people who printed the pixellated proof copies I ordered from OBS. In fact, it would seem that they were both printed in the same facility in Lavergne Tennessee.

The top one (white paper, November printing date) is my OBS proof copy. The lower one (cream paper, December printing date) is my new arrival from Lulu.

Any idea what's going on?
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