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Return to Oz: Ozbusting Assumptions

In the previous article we talked about the possibilities of using L. Frank Baum's Oz as a replacement for the Feywild. But there are a few misconceptions DMs will want to address before they do.
ozbusting.jpg
Picture By Александр Коротич - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, File:Иллюстрация к сказочному сериалу Л.Ф.Баума "Страна Оз" 09.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

It's Just for Kids​

The Wizard of Oz movie has cemented the Oz series as a G-rated setting where nobody gets hurt (more on that later) and it all works out in the end. The Oz series may have started out that way under Baum but it certainly didn't adhere to the standards we might expert for modern kid fare. Later books feature flying disembodied heads (reminiscent of vargouilles) who try to cut off the heroes' limbs, a person assembled from glued together body parts, and a wizard execution. An entire war is waged over Santa Claus. The ingredients are there for Oz to be as dark or as light as you want it to be, but it is not strictly a kid-friendly setting.

Nobody Dies​

There is a common belief that nobody in Oz can die. The authors (Baum and Thompson) regularly flouted these rules, implying that sufficient damage could kill a person, or that mortal visitors (like Dorothy) still might come to harm. The Wicked Witch stays dead, after all. But because these are children's books, the authors rarely test the limits of this rule. Also, outside of Oz this rule doesn't apply, so the rest of Nonestica is still a dangerous place. The aforementioned war over Christmas resulted in the deaths of several of the humanoid monsters who fought against the immortals.

Nobody Ages​

It's true that no one ages in Oz. Or rather, they stop aging when they choose to do so. Dorothy visits the real world and to her horror begins growing older; she manages to return to Oz and back to her younger self. There's also several Princes who choose to stop aging whenever they like, then resume aging as they see fit. How this affects the population is anyone's guess, but it has far-reaching implications for nation building. In Nonestica, this rule doesn't apply either.

Everything is Peaceful​

In later books, Ozma names the former pirate Captain Salt her Royal Explorer, who then sets out to explore the Nonestic Ocean, claiming each island he comes across as conquered by Oz. He's polite enough about it, explaining that it's to everyone's benefit, but it definitely feels like a lopsided arrangement where the small island nations don't have much of a choice in the matter. Thompson takes this to its logical conclusion when the Tin Woodman on an ozoplane (a magical zeppelin) attempts to claim the cloud island (also known as a "skyland") of Stratovania, only to have the resident Airlanders stage a counter-invasion in response.

Everything Talks​

Animals talk in Oz, which means there are few dumb beasts. And if every animal can talk, not all of them may be okay with traditional service roles as pack animals or mounts. When everything can talk, simply having a mount means having a NPC with opinions. This rule doesn't apply outside to the rest of Nonestica, although the authors invent different talking animals to fill the gap.

Oz is Outdated​

There were a lot of racist assumptions built into the Oz books. While Baum was a pioneer in pushing for women's rights in his Oz (the leaders and protagonists of Oz are all female) and even dabbled in discussions of gender fluidity with the Cherub (of John Dough and the Cherub) and Ozma herself (who was originally a boy named Tip), there were still some unpleasant assumptions about modern peoples that cropped up in his work, specifically The Woggle-Bug Book, which places the titular character in America. Things got worse under Oz author Ruth Plumly Thompson, who created caricatures of non-American cultures in her books. Taking that content out doesn't harm the cohesiveness of Nonestica as a whole, but it's important to be aware of these biases when adapting a world like this to a game for modern audiences.

All of the reasons listed above may be why there is such variety in adapting Oz to role-playing games. You can view how I tackled these issues in my campaign and in the upcoming Kickstarter-funded Adventures in Oz for 5E.

In the next article, we'll create a basic framework for domains and how they interact with both NPCs and PCs.

Your Turn: What common misconceptions about fantasy campaigns make your game unique?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

Jer

Adventurer
I feel like Oz started out more violent under Baum and then he moved away from it as time passed. In the first book the only reason Dorothy is safe from death is the spell that the Good Witch puts on her in Munchkinland with her kiss. The Tin Woodman slaughters first a pack of talking wolves, then a swarm of talking crows, and finally a whole bunch of bees that the Witch sent to kill them - and it's explicitly said that she's sending them to kill the group - she doesn't realize that Dorothy is under a spell of protection until the flying monkeys defeat the group and bring Dorothy to the castle.

By the later books he's saying "nobody dies in Oz" but his first book at least is very strongly influenced by Grimm fairy tales, and the possibility of death was always around in a fairy tale.
 

jayoungr

Legend
I raise an eyebrow at considering the Thompson books to be canon Oz, although I get that it gives you more material to draw from.
 

talien

Community Supporter
I raise an eyebrow at considering the Thompson books to be canon Oz, although I get that it gives you more material to draw from.
To that point, using what's in the public domain is a double-edged sword, but several of Thompson's works are and it fleshes out quite a bit of Nonestica beyond Oz itself.
 

I imagine Oz as a domain within the Feywild, and I would use it for a mash-up version, not an adaptation of the original IP, in the same way Kratos: God of War, Xena: the Warrior Princess and Ulises-31 are reimagination of the classic Grecoroman myths.

Maybe this could see the source of inspiration of a future Magic: The Gathering setting/plane

d1xi60p-60c94542-6c86-42ec-a0b3-ca7deeabbb64.jpg


4577731.jpg

d468ams-d8c91fa8-9fb8-4e09-9915-5544a63c6854.jpg
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
On a recent drive from N.Y. to Ohio, I listened to an audiobook of the Wizard of Oz, read by Brook Shields. (She did a fine job.)
...and interspersed with that, I listened to an audiobook compilation of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.
Two seminal American fantasy authors.

When I got tired of the ultra-syrupy sweet ungroundedness of the WoO, I'd switch to Conan. It was like switching back and forth between sweet and savory dishes.

I found myself still wanting to hear how the Oz story turned out, since the film so diverged from Baum's story. Hearing the last third of the book, telling of the adventures of Dorothy and her companions, after the Wizard had already returned to Kansas, felt like a bonus sequel!

Man, Oz is very loopy. It was sometimes hard to suspend belief and stay in the story; for example, how everyone locks on green lenses in the Emerald City, and wears them all the time, even while taking a bath and sleeping. And how even when the Scarecrow became king, everyone still wore lenses. It's sometimes a disjointed dreamland.

Yet, in spite of that (or because of that!) I do agree that Oz has a great potential as a fantasy setting. It has a peculiarly evocative Midwestern American vibe.

Baum's Theosophical worldview also provides a sort of "theological/mythological" framework that could be further applied:


When I lived in South Dakota for awhile (the state where Baum lived), I was heartened to hear how his descendants had enacted amends for his backward Caucasianist words about American Indian Humanity. The fact that shortcomings were admitted and amended means a great deal to me.

I'm enjoying Michael Tresca's series.
 
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I imagine Oz as a domain within the Feywild, and I would use it for a mash-up version, not an adaptation of the original IP, in the same way Kratos: God of War, Xena: the Warrior Princess and Ulises-31 are reimagination of the classic Grecoroman myths.

Maybe this could see the source of inspiration of a future Magic: The Gathering setting/plane

d1xi60p-60c94542-6c86-42ec-a0b3-ca7deeabbb64.jpg


4577731.jpg

d468ams-d8c91fa8-9fb8-4e09-9915-5544a63c6854.jpg
You forgot Todd Mcfarlane's action figure line based on it too.

*Warning: the figures DEFINETLY don't look kiddy in it.
 



talien

Community Supporter
I simply adore the picture of Dorothy basically Falcon Punching the Cowardly Lion right in the snoz-ola!!!
It's interesting because I completely forgot that she hit the lion in the first book, probably because Baum used the word "slapped" I totally glossed over it. But she hit him "as hard as she could," so I think a balled fist makes sense:

Little Toto, now that he had an enemy to face, ran barking toward the Lion, and the great beast had opened his mouth to bite the dog, when Dorothy, fearing Toto would be killed, and heedless of danger, rushed forward and slapped the Lion upon his nose as hard as she could, while she cried out: “Don’t you dare to bite Toto! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, a big beast like you, to bite a poor little dog!”

And just to add to the fact that even the first Oz book was pretty violent:

The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him.

And:

He seized his axe, which he had made very sharp, and as the leader of the wolves came on the Tin Woodman swung his arm and chopped the wolf’s head from its body, so that it immediately died. As soon as he could raise his axe another wolf came up, and he also fell under the sharp edge of the Tin Woodman’s weapon. There were forty wolves, and forty times a wolf was killed, so that at last they all lay dead in a heap before the Woodman.

This has weird parallel of Gimli and Legolas from Lord of the Rings competing for orc kills (which is just over 40 too!).
 

jayoungr

Legend
I was under the impression that the "nobody dies" rule was macabre. As in, you're still alive and conscious even if your body is dismembered, melted, turned to sand, burned to ash, etc.
they often said you could be cut up, but each part of you would still be alive. That sounds pretty horrible.
It's one of those things that seem creepier to adults than to children. I definitely don't remember it being presented as horrifying in the actual books--I had no problem with them as a kid, and I was very squeamish at that age.
 
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Marandahir

Crown-Forester
The Wizard's character also changes from book to book.

He starts out much more malevolent and political - In Book II we find out he sold Ozma into slavery under the Witch Mombi and conspired with her to off Ozma's parents, the King and Queen of Oz, so that he could reign supreme. But by the 4th book he's Dorothy's companion and much more of a humbug illusionist/P.T. Barnum character than the person he was in Land of Oz.
 

Eyes of Nine

Everything's Fine
The Wizard's character also changes from book to book.

He starts out much more malevolent and political - In Book II we find out he sold Ozma into slavery under the Witch Mombi and conspired with her to off Ozma's parents, the King and Queen of Oz, so that he could reign supreme. But by the 4th book he's Dorothy's companion and much more of a humbug illusionist/P.T. Barnum character than the person he was in Land of Oz.
Need more emoji's so I can just put in the 💯 emoji instead of a full reply...
 

Dungeonosophy

Adventurer
For some time, I've been advocating something which I call "certified unabridged filmbooks." ("CUFs") It's a new genre and format of film-making. Throughout the history of cinema, films based on books are never unabridged. (Can you name even one?) They always compress the story into a "filmic" format (or, rarely, expand the story, as seen in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit). Filmmakers always modify the dialogue and many other aspects. Due to cost and theater time constraints, but also due to hubris, and "generalization" for a mass audience (i.e. dumbed down).

But with pay-to-view services such as Netflix, "unabridged filmbooks" could become feasible now. They're like unabridged audiobooks, but filmed! Can be either live-action or animated. If animated, could recreate the exact style of the original illustrations (if the book was illustrated). For The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this would be W.W. Denslow's illustrations.

I call them "certified", because the director would guarantee to audiences that every line of dialogue is included in the film; and every visual detail (such as the characters' dress and landscape) are rendered as described in the book. So no filmic grey hat for Gandalf...in the certified unabridged filmbook, he has a blue hat and a silver scarf, like the books say so.

Unspoken thoughts and narration are also included, either as voice-over or as subtitles (which could be toggled on or off). The whole book is there.

Like unabridged audiobooks, Certified Unabridged Filmbooks run for many hours. 4 hours for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Given the overwhelming iconicity of the MGM version, which is far more iconic than the actual book, for a live-action WWoO CUF, I'd like to see a collaboration with MGM.
-Use a lookalike actors (Judy Garland, etc.) which exactly model the 1939 film, except where it diverges from the book. E.g. Silver slippers instead of ruby slippers.
-Cut out the musicals, and
-There will be many more scenes, which were cut out: the Kaolin porcelin folk, etc.
-Emulate the retro Technicolor film stock.

I think the combo of visual nostalgia (the actor lookalikes) plus showing the whole story, could make for a huge success.
 

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