Just the other day some of my online gaming friends had the chance to play in a demo game of Of Dreams and Magic, a modern fantasy RPG with some unique twists. The game was run by none other the designer and production staff of this active Kickstarter. Following their game they put the word out that it was a fun and innovative system and the designer wa wanting to run more demo games for other interested people. This is where I come in! I signed up for a chance to play in an upcoming game and John contacted me promptly about a game the next evening. So here is where my review beings….
The concept of this modern fantasy game is a take on the theme of children and teens defeating and gaining control of the forces that haunt the night and the dreams of children. If fact this is the crux of the game theme. So much so that when a young person is said to have conquered and defeated the Doubt, they gain the ability to use dream state-like abilities in the normal waking world and they gain the ability to dreamwalk. This is summarized as their anima ability. This ability is what sets these people apart as they grow from teens to adults. Characters are solicited by the DCMA, an organization which serves to help guide those with anima in the ways of the world and how to work in their new reality. It becomes the premise for continued stories and adventures against the Doubt. There’s nothing like dancing between two worlds!
Saturday (Pre ODAM Game)
Saturday morning started off with a read through of the starter rules. Of which I must say are very well written and laid out. I did not find any typos or grammatical issues throughout the relatively short document, kudos to the editor! The rules themselves did not appear overly complex, but there were some nuances that seems to be lost on me as I was reading through them. Namely, the Competitive Advantage Points or CAP, it seemed to me to be a subset of the rules that almost felt as if it was designed and developed after the fact and pasted on. I know they are trying to carve out a new niche for the system to reside, but it just seemed like the one overly complicated aspect. Conversely, I love what they are doing with what they are calling the Over/Under dice system. Whereby, you roll two 2d10 (one positive [over] and one negative [under]) and through a simple calculation get a resulting numbering. If that resulting number is above a target number you succeed! I am looking forward to seeing the rules in action tonight and getting my head around the CAP system.
Sunday Morning (Post ODAM Game) Summary
The story that was told was compelling, unique and really captured the vibe of the theme! So let me explain more about the CAP system that I really though on my first read through of the rules was a problematic and almost pasted on mechanic. The mechanic itself, the difference between the target (ATR) number and the final value of the roll is call the CAP. This total or CAP can be used to power different aspects of an ability, attack, weapon, etc. There seems to be nothing in my previous play experience to compare this to. It’s not a critical success or anything like that. John, the designer, summed it up nicely during the course of play as a way of allowing the character to focus their attack in certain ways. For example, I was playing Jerry Holt (Pre-gen) and Jerry has a spell like ability called Eldritch Blast. I could spend CAP to allow Jerry to target a foe farther away (1 point for each additional meter) or make the blast more concentrated (2 points for 3 additional points of damage). In a way CAP is used as a narrative aid for the player to tell their character’s unique story and circumstances.
The Over/Under die mechanic was something that was well thought out and the execution of it during game played worked flawlessly! To be honest, I am surprised this rather simple mechanic is only now coming to the attention of the RPG community. Well done guys! The rules do a fantastic job of explaining both the Over/Under and CAP mechanics so I decided to quote it verbatim (ODAM pg. 9).
The Over/Under Die System provides a controlled
method of die rolling so as to ensure that a character’s talents
and abilities are the star of the story rather than the luck
of the dice. The Over/Under Die System allows players to
feel the thrill of over-achieving and the distress of under-performing
while also keeping the results in line with their character’s
abilities. This allows the storyteller (referred to as a
Dreamweaver) to have confidence that any scene or challenge
they write will not be undone by pure random chance.
In ODAM, all die rolls are made using two ten sided
dice. One die, referred to as the “Over” die, represents how
far above (or Over) a character’s base level of ability they
can perform. Similarly, the second die (the “Under” die) represents
how far beneath (or Under) a character’s base level of
ability they can perform.
Competitive Advantage Points (or CAP for short) work
in tandem with the Over/Under Die System to allow players
to measure their level of success rather than simply knowing
if they succeeded or failed at a given task. CAP measure the
amount of advantage a player has gained over a competitor
or situation. They allow a player to be more proactive and
involved in the actions their characters take and the results
achieved by these actions.
What I liked
The theme was invigorating and a fun spin on the childhood horror theme; it’s a nice evolution of the genre. The mechanics, albeit limited in their presentation, were a easier to understand and comprehend than I had originally thought they would be. All told, I really like the theme, did I mention that already? Ok, theme aside, I really like the basic mechanics, they were solid and playable! The limited exposure to some of the more crunchy rules (see below) was nice to experience. John did a great job explaining some of the rationale he used to create and validate the rules. I also like how the rules and abilities allow the character/player to help narrate what is happening during their character’s turn, much in the way other indie games focus on narration.
What I didn’t like
I only played a demo game which had some limitations with regards to the rules, per the designer, this was planned so as to keep the demo games streamlined and moving so that players and perspective backers can get a feel of the basic most often used rules and the flavor of the game. In short, the only issue I had was just that, the lack of exposure to some of the depth of the rules. Per the company, the system does have some crunch and chrome, for me, it would have been nice to experience a little bit more of it. I should mention that some of the crunch rose to the surface during our end engagement of the demo and it was really nice to see some of it in action and the rationale behind the mechanics.
A fun demo session with a great story line. The demo game really showcased the theme, more so than I thought it would. The game itself drives players to be narrators of their player’s actions with less focus on the underlying rules which are seamlessly integrated. Don’t get me wrong, the mechanics make up the game and are integral part of the game itself. The demo game was enough for me to pull the trigger and back the kickstarter. It was a fun session and I look forward to playing more sessions once the game is published. Maybe the designer will contact me in the future for additional demo and playtest sessions <hint, hint>.