Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Oz and it's Emerald City

We leave the world of nightmares for a strange land located somewhere between dreams and fairy tales. Beyond the rainbow, at the end of the Road of Yellow Brick, lies Oz.

I have noted before that L. Frank Baum is one of my literary heroes and I've been fascinated with the land of Oz and it's nonestic neighbors since I was very young. A more perfect setting for a role playing game of magic, faeries, dragons, wizards, and witches I can not fathom dear reader. While I have read the likes of Tolkien, Vance, Howard, Moorcock, Lieber, and many others that make up the foundation of modern medieval fantasy fiction and gaming, none of those writers do it for me the way Baum, Carroll, Byron, Yates, Aesop, and the Grimms do.

Now in regards to gaming in the Land of Oz, there are several interesting options. First and foremost I would have to recommend Adventures in Oz, the Oz RPG by the talented F. Douglas Wall and art by a variety of skilled illustrators including yours truly (ah the joys of the shameless self-plug). This is a good choice because aside from being one of the few if not the only RPGs truly based on the source material and its unique style (more on that in a bit), I can vouch for the fact that it's an Oz game by an Oz fan. Doug Wall and those that provided additional material for this game are individuals who care about and have a deep passion for the original stories and making sure the tone is right.

This is not Wicked or an American McGee take on the setting but a faithful tribute to Baum and the wonderful world, at once both whimsical and exciting, that was created over 100 years ago. That is an IP with staying power if ever I've seen one. While Adventures in Oz retains the darker aspects of the setting, it doesn't dwell on them. There are games that focus more on those elements but sometimes in doing so they lose the charm of OZ, that American fairy tale nature that is easy to perceive but difficult to explain.

As with other settings I enjoy, this isn't one where killing your enemy, finding gold, or becoming more powerful are primary goals that drive the PC's lives. Everyone in Oz gets what they need as far as food and a place to stay. No one gets sick and no one ages. These are adventures about hope, love, helping others, overcoming problems, and vanquishing evil because it's doing bad things to people who you care about.

Also in the same category is the Zantabulous game The Zorcerer of Zo, an Oz-But-Not-Oz RPG created by those wacky guys over a Atomic Sock Monkey. I recommend this game as it too captures the correct atmosphere, and interestingly enough lends itself quite easily to adaption of non-Oz settings that hold the same general mystique such as Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Bridge to Terabithia, and the like.

Obviously I can't pass up the chance to suggest using Faery's Tale Deluxe or a modified Teenagers from Outer Space. I actually used a mix of TFOS and Ars Magica (yes...TFOS and Ars Magica. Do not question me! The Great and Terrible Adam has spoken!) to run my Oz campaign those many years ago.

Now this being a Monday I am predisposed toward mentioning the Muppets somewhere and there were certainly instances where Oz and the Muppets crossed over.

A number of instances in fact. Most notable of course was
The Muppets Wizard of Oz, which had some elements unchanged from the books that were altered for the famous MGM movie. In the Muppets special The Muppets Go to the Movies there is a different take of the classic story. In addition, Fozzie alone makes the mistake of thinking the Tin Man is a character in Wonderland in the Muppet Show episode featuring Brooke Shields.

Barking Alien


  1. TFOS and .... sheesh man. Hey if it worked then it worked! I'm still waiting for the GURPS sourcebook...

    I've read several of the books a long time ago and liked the world I saw there better than the one in the classic movie.

    I even liked that TV Movie special with John Ritter about Frank Baum that was made about 20 years ago.

    So thanks for stirring up some old memories - going to have to see if I can find some of the books now.

  2. See if you can rent the Disney film 'Return to Oz'. I love that movie. While perhaps a bit darker than is accurate to the source material, it also isn't.

    What I mean is, all the creepy, spooky elements and terrible villains are quite accurate to the books but the way the movie was filmed and directly it highlighted them more than the wonder of OZ.

    Still great film and highly underrated.

  3. Also, let it be known that I will mix anything, ANYTHING, with TFOS.

    Teenagers from Outer Space is like freakin' rice - it goes with everything.

  4. I'm a big fan of Return to Oz, but I have to admit that I find the rest of it either too twee, or trying too hard not to be anything but. All that said, I've never read any of the original books, so I suspect I'm missing out on the essential character of the series.

  5. Right you are KG!

    At least that's how I view most attempts to do Oz. It's either too much whimsy or not enough. The former can be just as annoying as the latter to a true fan of the original material.

  6. Dear Adam,
    I was one of your teachers in elementary school.
    You were in my third grade class in 1978 and we did an illustrated magazine called, "Close Encounters of the Third Grade." I just found a box of teaching materials that I hadn't opened in many years and the magazine was in it.

    Your illustrations are wonderful! You have been so consistent! I could scan a few and send them to you. There was also a story: Vulcan vs. Thor, which you illustrated as well.
    Just let me know if you'd like to see them.
    All the best,
    Ms. W

  7. Oh my goodness. Incredible this thing the internet, is it not? I remember you and the class very fondly, which is saying something as I did not end up as someone who enjoyed school overly much.

    If you do see this message, I would love to see those illustrations. Please email BARKINGALIENatGMAILdotCOM.

    And thank you for such kind words and memories.