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Return to Oz: Defining the Universe

I've written before about the world of Oz as created by Lyman Frank Baum. The setting has several appealing aspects for campaign building, including the fact that it's a well-known universe, much of it is public domain, and it ties together a bunch of different genres. In short, if you're looking for a non-traditional replacement for the Feywild, Oz is a great place to start. Also, Santa Claus lives there. More on him later.

nonesticamap.jpg

The Wonderful World of Baum​

If your only knowledge of Oz is the Wizard of Oz movie, you're in good company. And by all accounts, multimedia was always Baum's plan.

Baum started out as a theater producer and playwright, but found success in publishing children's literature. All the while, he kept working on producing films and plays. He wrote 14 novels in the Oz series, plus over 40 other novels, over 80 short stories, and more than 40 scripts. For Baum, Oz was the beginning but never the end of his vision. Baum regularly turned theatrical and movie scripts into books when they didn't gain traction on screen or in the theater, like The Marvelous Land of Oz and Tik-Tok of Oz.

But Baum always had bigger plans. He wrote about the absurd land of The Magical Monarch of Mo, of two children visiting a fairyland in Dot and Tot of Merryland, gave Santa a backstory in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, followed the adventures of a gingerbread man come to life in John Dough and the Cherub, and warned about what happens when you get your wish in Queen Zixi of Ix. When those books didn't perform well, he placed all three worlds back into the same universe as Oz with his book, The Road to Oz, in which Santa Claus, King Bud and Princess Fluff (from Queen Zixi of Ix), and John Dough show up for the festivities. Later, Baum would try to escape Oz again with the adventures of Trot and Cap'n Bill in The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, but when those books underperformed, the two main characters landed in Oz in The Scarecrow of Oz. All together, these realms created the foundation for Nonestica, a made-up term drawn from the surrounding Nonestic Ocean mentioned in the Oz books.

Baum's fans took things further, adding kingdoms from his other fairy tales, specifically American Fairy Tales, which featured the story "The Queen of Quok." That story adds more kingdoms (Bilkon, Junkum, Mulgravia, and Macvelt), and with a few other short stories from Baum, rounds out the other lands on the fan-made map of Nonestica. Adding to this diverse landscape are the 26 books set in Oz that are currently in the public domain, which flesh out the four corners of that Empire.

Despite the fact that Oz books were very popular in their day, little after The Wizard of Oz is familiar to modern audiences. There's an entire shared realm outside of Oz that's just waiting to be fleshed out by enterprising Game Masters.

Putting it All Together​

I recently published my own Oz campaign supplement for Fifth Edition and there's an even bigger book funded by Kickstarter on its way from Double Critical. It's a lot of work to tie it all together, and not all of Oz hangs together naturally without some effort.

Nonestica is a hodgepodge of ideas and it shows on the map. The borders within and outside of Oz aren't particularly logical (they don't follow geographic contours), because they were made up and added as Baum (and later his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson) wrote more books. It was not uncommon for a new species or kingdom to be introduced and never be mentioned again.

This dreamlike quality makes Nonestica a fluid place that lends itself to the concept of domains. We've seen domains used to good effect in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, but there are hints that the same premise will be applied to the Feywild with the upcoming book. The Wild Beyond the Witchlight mentions "Domains of Delight," a similar concept with lands that can open and close their borders and even move around as the game master sees fit.

Nonestica also encompasses a variety of genres. There are steampunk-style giants invented by the King of Scowleyow (from Mo), an island populated by failed inventions (the Isle of Phreex from John Dough), sea fairies battling fiendish monsters in the Nonestic Ocean (from The Sea Fairies), an academy of witches in Ribdil, Santa Claus' workshop in Hohaho Valley, and even a demon portal that spawns awgwas who bedevil the jolly old elf. There's just enough rough outlines to use Oz tropes in different lands.

That diversity goes beyond the surface and extends to the sky, where numerous "skylands" are detailed, from the pink-vs.-blue divided Sky Island to the militaristic Airlanders who possess blasting horns, gunpowder, and flying staves. There's much below ground too, including the Kingdom of the Nomes (a lot like D&D's dwarves), and a multitude of "hollow world" realms that exist in their own ecosystems, like that of the plant-like mangaboos, the silver people of the isles, and the burrowing flamefolk who live in lava.

Substituting Nonestica as a fairy land to replace the traditional Fey lands usually associated with Seelie and Unseelie has its own hazards. But with a few tweaks, you can add Nonestica to your game.
  • A Nonestican Campaign: Nonestica is so diverse that an entire campaign can easily be set within its confines. Because new domains within Faerie pop up all the time, it's possible that Nonestica contains your campaign rather than the other way around.
  • The Nonestica Continent: Although Oz was often positioned as being somewhere else, it was possible to physically reach it from the modern day world: Dorothy's house was picked up by a cyclone and the Wizard's balloon landed there. As other authors added to Oz's mythology, characters arrived in other ways (such as falling down through the earth). Oz could potentially be a magically-protected continent in your fantasy world.
  • Another Plane of Existence: The easiest solution is to just make Nonestica its own plane of existence. Many elements of Oz's geography moved around or contradicted themselves; using domains and borders, this fluidity can be more easily explained. There are several magic items in Faerie that allow transportation across worlds; often, characters stumble upon a powerful magic item or spell without recognizing what it does, only to accidentally use it to transport to Faerie.
  • A Dreamland: The Wizard of Oz movie positioned the realm as being part of a dreamscape. Characters might arrive via the Dreamlands into Oz, leaving only when they awaken.
In the next article we'll discuss some how to deal with some of the baggage that Oz brings along with it when adapting it to a D&D campaign.

Your Turn: What books have you adapted to your campaign?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I don’t think 5e is appropriate for Oz (or, well, anything that isn’t designed for it from the ground up; we’re running in the same problem we did under 3.x where everybody jumps on the bandwagon). It’s a very Americana fantasy setting, and the standard Tolkienesque races and classes don’t fit that aesthetic. It’s also unbalanced as heck: in the first book, Tin Man and Scarecrow are established to be mostly unkillable. It’s a setting that deserves it own ruleset, not a retrofit to a ruleset with completely different assumptions.
 

Making the Feywild into Oz is exactly what I did in 4e.

I ran a post-apocalyptic campaign where mankind's pollution of the Earth had reached a certain threshold and the eladrin finally came across from the feywild to teach them magic in place of traditional technology. Corporations wound up abusing magic and created shortcuts which lead to even more destructive tech but when the eladrin returned for another summit, the arrogance of man lead to an all-out war between the planes.

The game took place 200 years after the fey war had ravaged the Earth, covering much of it's surface in radioactive magic. The feywild was cut-off from the material plane but when the party eventually crossed over, they found that the land of eladrin was a re-imagined version of Oz where warforged, wilden, gnomes, changelings, and other, were tweaked to fit.
 

aco175

Legend
I remember reading this series back in the 90s and liked the ideas. I do not remember all of it, but I took part of the ideas with horse clans and certain magics to make certain riders be able to teleport and have cool powers when tied to their horse like a familiar.
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Double Critical has created a setting for 5th Ed based in the world of Oz. Netflix (or another streaming service) could talk with Double Critical for an animated adaptation.

It is curious because it is a public domain franchise, and everybody can use it, but practically is almos totally forgotten, at least the next books after the first one.

Do you know the action-live productions Tin Man(2007) and Esmerald City(2017)? When I was a chil I watched on the TV "Journey Back to Oz) (with Lizza Minelly as Doroty, when this was one year younger her mother famous role in the most famous adaptation).

Boulder Media, by Hasbro, has got a cartoon show based in Oz.

 


Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Love the original post by the way, your knowledge of Oz is deep!

I personally really like the Double Critical version of Oz mapped, it keeps the broad strokes of the original you posted, but is just a bit more grounded.

1630691300367.png
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
I've written before about the world of Oz as created by Lyman Frank Baum. The setting has several appealing aspects for campaign building, including the fact that it's a well-known universe, much of it is public domain, and it ties together a bunch of different genres. In short, if you're looking for a non-traditional replacement for the Feywild, Oz is a great place to start. Also, Santa Claus lives there. More on him later.

The Wonderful World of Baum​

If your only knowledge of Oz is the Wizard of Oz movie, you're in good company. And by all accounts, multimedia was always Baum's plan.

Baum started out as a theater producer and playwright, but found success in publishing children's literature. All the while, he kept working on producing films and plays. He wrote 14 novels in the Oz series, plus over 40 other novels, over 80 short stories, and more than 40 scripts. For Baum, Oz was the beginning but never the end of his vision. Baum regularly turned theatrical and movie scripts into books when they didn't gain traction on screen or in the theater, like The Marvelous Land of Oz and Tik-Tok of Oz.

But Baum always had bigger plans. He wrote about the absurd land of The Magical Monarch of Mo, of two children visiting a fairyland in Dot and Tot of Merryland, gave Santa a backstory in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, followed the adventures of a gingerbread man come to life in John Dough and the Cherub, and warned about what happens when you get your wish in Queen Zixi of Ix. When those books didn't perform well, he placed all three worlds back into the same universe as Oz with his book, The Road to Oz, in which Santa Claus, King Bud and Princess Fluff (from Queen Zixi of Ix), and John Dough show up for the festivities. Later, Baum would try to escape Oz again with the adventures of Trot and Cap'n Bill in The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, but when those books underperformed, the two main characters landed in Oz in The Scarecrow of Oz. All together, these realms created the foundation for Nonestica, a made-up term drawn from the surrounding Nonestic Ocean mentioned in the Oz books.

Baum's fans took things further, adding kingdoms from his other fairy tales, specifically American Fairy Tales, which featured the story "The Queen of Quok." That story adds more kingdoms (Bilkon, Junkum, Mulgravia, and Macvelt), and with a few other short stories from Baum, rounds out the other lands on the fan-made map of Nonestica. Adding to this diverse landscape are the 26 books set in Oz that are currently in the public domain, which flesh out the four corners of that Empire.

Despite the fact that Oz books were very popular in their day, little after The Wizard of Oz is familiar to modern audiences. There's an entire shared realm outside of Oz that's just waiting to be fleshed out by enterprising Game Masters.

Putting it All Together​

I recently published my own Oz campaign supplement for Fifth Edition and there's an even bigger book funded by Kickstarter on its way from Double Critical. It's a lot of work to tie it all together, and not all of Oz hangs together naturally without some effort.

Nonestica is a hodgepodge of ideas and it shows on the map. The borders within and outside of Oz aren't particularly logical (they don't follow geographic contours), because they were made up and added as Baum (and later his successor, Ruth Plumly Thompson) wrote more books. It was not uncommon for a new species or kingdom to be introduced and never be mentioned again.

This dreamlike quality makes Nonestica a fluid place that lends itself to the concept of domains. We've seen domains used to good effect in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, but there are hints that the same premise will be applied to the Feywild with the upcoming book. The Wild Beyond the Witchlight mentions "Domains of Delight," a similar concept with lands that can open and close their borders and even move around as the game master sees fit.

Nonestica also encompasses a variety of genres. There are steampunk-style giants invented by the King of Scowleyow (from Mo), an island populated by failed inventions (the Isle of Phreex from John Dough), sea fairies battling fiendish monsters in the Nonestic Ocean (from The Sea Fairies), an academy of witches in Ribdil, Santa Claus' workshop in Hohaho Valley, and even a demon portal that spawns awgwas who bedevil the jolly old elf. There's just enough rough outlines to use Oz tropes in different lands.

That diversity goes beyond the surface and extends to the sky, where numerous "skylands" are detailed, from the pink-vs.-blue divided Sky Island to the militaristic Airlanders who possess blasting horns, gunpowder, and flying staves. There's much below ground too, including the Kingdom of the Nomes (a lot like D&D's dwarves), and a multitude of "hollow world" realms that exist in their own ecosystems, like that of the plant-like mangaboos, the silver people of the isles, and the burrowing flamefolk who live in lava.

Substituting Nonestica as a fairy land to replace the traditional Fey lands usually associated with Seelie and Unseelie has its own hazards. But with a few tweaks, you can add Nonestica to your game.
  • A Nonestican Campaign: Nonestica is so diverse that an entire campaign can easily be set within its confines. Because new domains within Faerie pop up all the time, it's possible that Nonestica contains your campaign rather than the other way around.
  • The Nonestica Continent: Although Oz was often positioned as being somewhere else, it was possible to physically reach it from the modern day world: Dorothy's house was picked up by a cyclone and the Wizard's balloon landed there. As other authors added to Oz's mythology, characters arrived in other ways (such as falling down through the earth). Oz could potentially be a magically-protected continent in your fantasy world.
  • Another Plane of Existence: The easiest solution is to just make Nonestica its own plane of existence. Many elements of Oz's geography moved around or contradicted themselves; using domains and borders, this fluidity can be more easily explained. There are several magic items in Faerie that allow transportation across worlds; often, characters stumble upon a powerful magic item or spell without recognizing what it does, only to accidentally use it to transport to Faerie.
  • A Dreamland: The Wizard of Oz movie positioned the realm as being part of a dreamscape. Characters might arrive via the Dreamlands into Oz, leaving only when they awaken.
In the next article we'll discuss some how to deal with some of the baggage that Oz brings along with it when adapting it to a D&D campaign.

Your Turn: What books have you adapted to your campaign?

I'm curious how you feel about the Wicked series, which hasn't surpassed the original Wizard of Oz in popularity, but I think with the musical has become the most famous Oz property next to the WoO itself.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
It is curious because it is a public domain franchise, and everybody can use it, but practically is almos totally forgotten, at least the next books after the first one.
Yeah, that is weird. There have been numerous attempts to "reimagine" Oz as darker and grittier or to make original sequels, but never any attempts to faithfully adapt the books. The MGM and Disney movies took huge liberties with the source material.

It's especially odd considering that there have been numerous adaptations of Dracula. The many movies, multiple sequels by different authors, even a version from Dracula's perspective that makes him the hero.
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
Yeah, that is weird. There have been numerous attempts to "reimagine" Oz as darker and grittier or to make original sequels, but never any attempts to faithfully adapt the books. The MGM and Disney movies took huge liberties with the source material.

It's especially odd considering that there have been numerous adaptations of Dracula. The many movies, multiple sequels by different authors, even a version from Dracula's perspective that makes him the hero.

I believe a studio tried to make an Oz film franchise (with James Franco as Oz I think) but it was a complete bust, so no studio is keen at trying to pick up the property.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
I'm curious how you feel about the Wicked series, which hasn't surpassed the original Wizard of Oz in popularity, but I think with the musical has become the most famous Oz property next to the WoO itself.
It's one of the weirdest published fanfics because it's not remotely in continuity with the canon books (which, to be fair, have accumulated their fair share of inconsistencies) and it's about a minor villain who dies halfway thru the first book and never appears again.

The inclusion of creepy adult material (which was of course sanitized in the musical) also misses the fact that the books are written for children.

I believe a studio tried to make an Oz film franchise (with James Franco as Oz I think) but it was a complete bust, so no studio is keen at trying to pick up the property.
That was Disney and they were writing their own fanfiction of the MGM movie rather than adapting the books. I recall Linsay Ellis vlogged a scathing critique of that movie.

Once the 1939 film enters the public domain in 2035, I expect Disney+ will pick it up and may try to revive interest in Return to Oz and adapt further books in the series.

Also, the unlicensed adaptation The Wizard of the Emerald City has displaced the original in Russia. The convoluted history of the Oz universe never ceases to amaze.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
It's one of the weirdest published fanfics because it's not remotely in continuity with the canon books (which, to be fair, have accumulated their fair share of inconsistencies) and it's about a minor villain who dies halfway thru the first book and never appears again.

The inclusion of creepy adult material (which was of course sanitized in the musical) also misses the fact that the books are written for children.


That was Disney and they were writing their own fanfiction of the MGM movie rather than adapting the books. I recall Linsay Ellis vlogged a scathing critique of that movie.

Once the 1939 film enters the public domain in 2035, I expect Disney+ will pick it up and may try to revive interest in Return to Oz and adapt further books in the series.

Also, the unlicensed adaptation The Wizard of the Emerald City has displaced the original in Russia. The convoluted history of the Oz universe never ceases to amaze.
Gregory Maguire (the author of "Wicked") didn't "miss the fact" that Baum's Oz books were written for children. Baum wrote for children, Maguire very purposefully was writing for adults. "Wicked" isn't exactly fan-fic, it isn't intended to fit neatly into existing Ozian canon (if there even is such a thing), but is a revision and satire of the story told from a different point of view, for a different audience.

It's a great book!

For adults interested in gaming in Oz, I highly recommend giving it a read for ideas on how to approach the land of Oz somewhat differently.
 

I rembember the 1986 anime serie was very faithful to the first fouth books. Here I met the first transgender character.



We shouldn't worry about the canon because usually the DMs create their own mash-up or reimagined version, and sometimes the lore is retconnected because some player has got her own ideas for her PC, for example a race that doesn't appear as native in that setting.

IN D&D cosmology Oz could be a domain within the Feywild, next to other classic realms as Wonderland and Neverland.

 

I know Oz as a setting very well—I had read 37 of the canonical 40 books by the time I was out of grade school—but I've never taken the plunge into running an RPG campaign set in Oz. The issues involved are numerous: there's no money in Oz and no death; tonally, very few problems are ever solved or solvable by violence anyhow; and since Oz is for the most part a peaceable kingdom, adventures set there tend to take one of a handful of formulaic shapes ("villain does bad thing, heroes react to stop it"; "random protagonist from an obscure corner of Oz has a problem and sets out on a personal quest, usually to reach the Emerald City and solve their problem"; or "main character we know well gets bored and goes on an adventure just for funsies"). Most difficult of all, any GM who sets out to do Oz justice must add to it, which means filling in the wild and unknown corners of Oz with isolated, weird, whimsical, punny places and peoples in the vein of Baum and Thompson — and even the later Oz authors had serious trouble living up to this standard.
 

BoxCrayonTales

Adventurer
Gregory Maguire (the author of "Wicked") didn't "miss the fact" that Baum's Oz books were written for children. Baum wrote for children, Maguire very purposefully was writing for adults. "Wicked" isn't exactly fan-fic, it isn't intended to fit neatly into existing Ozian canon (if there even is such a thing), but is a revision and satire of the story told from a different point of view, for a different audience.

It's a great book!

For adults interested in gaming in Oz, I highly recommend giving it a read for ideas on how to approach the land of Oz somewhat differently.
I tried reading it years ago. I couldn't get past the first few chapters because of all the repulsive sexual stuff it immediately throws in your face. If this is what passes for adult published fanfiction, then I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Go watch the musical that sanitizes it for a family-friendly audience instead. You'll be glad you did.

We shouldn't worry about the canon because usually the DMs create their own mash-up or reimagined version, and sometimes the lore is retconnected because some player has got her own ideas for her PC, for example a race that doesn't appear as native in that setting.

IN D&D cosmology Oz could be a domain within the Feywild, next to other classic realms as Wonderland and Neverland.
To be more accurate, you're playing D&D with pop-culture references thrown in. The classics have their own tones and themes that are completely at odds with D&D's baked-in assumption that you crawl thru "dungeons", kill everything you find to get "experience", and loot everything that isn't nailed down (and sometimes even that). D&D is designed to be violent crime fantasy (read Power Kill and Violence sometime to see what I mean), whereas Oz, Wonderland, and Neverland were not. It's like that time back in the 2000s that everybody tried creating d20 versions of everything: the d20 system (and by extension all versions of D&D) is just fundamentally inappropriate for anything that isn't violent crime fantasy. I say this as someone who previously consumed a lot of D&D fanfiction and GameLit: the assumptions made by the D&D rules are quite frankly extremely bizarre (being, as they are, an outgrowth of wargaming that was haphazardly grafted together by decades of many different writers with very different ideas of what the game should be) and aren't actually accounted for by the writers of typical D&D campaign settings (which are already pretty bizarre, just watch any fantasy anime made since 2010 to see why), and writers who do take the rules seriously end up producing extremely bizarre stilted settings like the "Tippyverse" (which is by far the least insane most restrained). Even settings that do try to account for D&Disms, like Scarred Lands and Eberron, are only able to do so much without breaking down. The degree of ludonarrative dissonance in D&D is just... argh! But I digress.

Anyway, go play D&D in your versions of "Oz", "Wonderland", and "Neverland." But... if you're ever interested, then look for non-D&D RPGs intended to specifically emulate their tones and themes. I recommend Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond The Yellow Brick Road.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
I tried reading it years ago. I couldn't get past the first few chapters because of all the repulsive sexual stuff it immediately throws in your face. If this is what passes for adult published fanfiction, then I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Go watch the musical that sanitizes it for a family-friendly audience instead. You'll be glad you did.
To each their own. While "Wicked" is definitely not for kids (the book at least), I didn't find the content anywhere near "repulsive".
 

Urriak Uruk

Debate fuels my Fire
To each their own. While "Wicked" is definitely not for kids (the book at least), I didn't find the content anywhere near "repulsive".

My mother read the series, and she is the kind of person who can't watch Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, or anything really with a hint of violence. If she could read it, I'm truly doubtful it's "repulsive."
 


All of D&D is. It’s Ren Faire. Which is as American as Oz is.
Yes it's bizarre to me that people think D&D fits Tolkien better than Oz.

Middle Earth is a consciously religious setting written by an English Catholic about a mythic European past. It is very definitely not a setting of power fantasy, so if D&D is inappropriate for Oz, it's inappropriate for Middle Earth.
 

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