Monday, October 20, 2008

Land of Cha-Ka

It's my turn to GM for the Emerald City Game Feast group this week. Last Friday morning I toyed with the idea of running Land of Og. I've always wanted to play (or GM) Og, the caveman RPG where you get a handful of words to express yourself. The total list is 18 words (Fire, Hairy, Rock, Stick, Smelly, etc), and each character gets just a fraction of them. I love the idea of players using charades, half a dozen useless words, and lots of pointing to try to convey their actions, it makes me laugh.

But, truth be told, Land of Og was a barely playable game. Funny as heck to read, but not a good game, I'm afraid. I've never really admitted that before, as I've met Aldo Ghiozzi (the author of the first two editions) on several occasions, and he's always struck me as a not just a really nice guy, but a really smart man, too. When Wargames West went under, Aldo offered me a part time job despite my being in another state, and you just can't dis a guy who went out of his way to make sure you had a safety net. Aldo is a prince among men. I kept Land of Og around hoping to one day play it, and did my best to overlook unnecessarily complicated rules and the fact that one character class ("Smart Caveman") seemed brokenly better than all the other classes. So, Friday morning, I resolved to play it within a week, and knew I had to honestly look at Og's warts. An hour or two later, I started brainstorming simplified rules of my own based on the Og concept. It was designed during a time when RPGs were clunkier as a matter of fact, and didn't have the benefit of today's more streamlined design ethos, and I planned to update it for my own use.

Later that afternoon, on my way home from my chiropractic visit, I stopped in at Gary's Games, and what should I discover by Og Unearthed Edition sitting on their shelves. I didn't even know this third edition of Og existed. It seems Aldo figured out his awesome concept wasn't being done justice by the previous rules sets. So he hired award-winning game author Robin D Laws to simplify it. Needless to say, I bought it on the spot. I then swung by Top Ten Toys on my way home, where I purchased several quality painted plastic dinosaurs to use for miniatures. At home I found a bunch of D&D minis that, while they won't work for cavemen, per se, they would work for Pakuni, the monkeymen like those appearing in 2001, Land of the Lost, or - get this - the antagonist section of Og Unearthed Edition. I've got quaggoths, primitive orcs, grimlocks, ghouls in animal skins, a dinky little mongrelman, and a really fat Taer. Perfectly mismatched, and just about in-scale for the dinosaurs. I will be running a heavily Land of the Lost influenced Og session this Thursday, and the PCs will be Cha-Ka's clan. It's gonna be fun.

I also hauled out the minis from my Betrayal At House On The Hill boardgame to be Marshall, Will and Holly, or perhaps Sarah Palin's Vice Presidential Action Rangers, gone back in time to prove mankind and dinosaurs coexist. I love it when a plan comes together - especially a plan that mocks young earth creationists.

The Unearthed Edition is an improvement over Land of Og in nearly every respect. It's far more elegant, less fiddly, and both play and character creation look to be much faster. It's no longer level based, and doesn't have numerous derived statistics. You don't start with one word, you start with 1d6+2. You only use d6's, and generally just one per action. The writing remains entertaining, and the game portions are better than ever. You can still "forget how" to do things, so you're still playing dumb cavemen. I'm grateful that Aldo and Robin made this happen.

Here's a cute little "small world" moment. I posted to the group's list saying that I'd decided on Og for Thursday, and Mark replied. Turns out that he, Sophie, Edmund and Laura had playtested this edition of Og before it released last year, so a couple players will already know the system. On closer inspection, their names show up in the credits on the first page of the book. How funny.


Cauldron of Evil said...

I'd love to see any of your house rules for OG! I've created a yahoo group here:

Cauldron of Evil said...

I feel the same way about LOTL. That's why I you might like this group: