Robots & Cyborgs & Oz, Oh My!

The Wizard of Oz has become iconic thanks to the titular movie that established L. Frank Baum's world. And yet, there are over a dozen of books set in Oz in the public domain that go well beyond the world we glimpsed in the film. They in turn spawned several role-playing games.


It Started with a Book

The Wizard of Oz movie was based on author L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. The movie is relatively faithful to the book with some of the rougher edges filed off: at one point, the Scarecrow murders a flock of crows by snapping their necks, and the Tin Woodman chops off the heads of 40 wolves. Most important, Oz is not just a dream of Dorothy's -- by the sixth book, Dorothy convinces her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to move to Oz permanently with her, escaping their difficult life in Kansas, proving once and for all that Oz is real.

Although Baum wrote 14 novels about Oz as well as several short story compilations, he had an ambivalent relationship with his most popular fantasy land. Baum wrote several other fantasy stories set in other realms including Queen Zixi of Ix (Ix and Noland), The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo and His People (The Valley of Mo), The Sea Fairies (Underwater), John Dough and the Cherub (several islands, including HiLo Land), and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (The Laughing Valley of Hohaho). When it became clear that Oz would outlast them all, Baum begrudgingly added them into the Oz universe in his fifth book, establishing all of the characters from the other novels as being part of Oz canon.

Baum was a transmedia visionary, producing movies and stage plays, and even attempts at an Oz-themed amusement park. Baum was considerably less successful with his finances and lost money on several of his ventures.

The Oz Legacy

Baum's work is often overlooked as kid-literature, but it contained several important milestones that were revolutionary at the time. The Tin Woodman is essentially a cyborg, having lost all of his limbs with all of them replaced with tin prosthetics. Several characters are gender-fluid, including Chick the Cherub (them/they), Prince Marvel (a female fairy who transforms into a male knight), and Queen Ozma herself (who originally was a boy named Tip). Tik-Tok the Machine Man is one of the first robots in popular literature, and established the peculiar quirk of a robot speaking English ("speak-ing halt-ing-ly"). Baum's mother-in-law was a suffragette and feminiist activist, and her influence on many of the female characters of Oz are clear; much of Oz is ruled by women. Animal rights are also a frequent topic, as all animals can speak in Oz (yes, even Toto, he just chooses not to). Despite his progressive views, Baum frequently peppered his stories with racist caricatures.

Several of the characters have gone on to influence popular literature. The Nightmare Before Christmas is lifted from Jack Pumpkinhead and Scraps the Patchwork Girl of Oz, combined with a scene from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus in which St. Nick is kidnapped. Jack even meets Santa in a short story.

Because Oz and many subsequent works set in that land are in the public domain, it has appeared in a variety of media through the years. Although Oz is aimed at children, it has become a popular setting to revisit with adult eyes, including tabletop role-playing games.


Given how popular Oz was in America, it's surprising there aren't more tabletop role-playing games using the setting. The below list doesn't include the role-playing games that included content inspired by Oz, of which there are too many to detail here.


Bloodstone Press has several d20-compatible Oz supplements, providing them along with the stories, including The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Glinda of Oz, and The Magic of Oz.


Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a unique system set in Oz. It's available in Pay What You Want and softcover editions.


Heroes of Oz by Darkstar Electic Media uses the Fudge rules to make it a fun game that can be played with children. The Quickstart rules, along with three supplements, are available for free.


Battle for Oz by Pirate Press, LLC uses Savage Worlds to update the world with butt-kicking action more suitable for kick-in-the-door style play.


Oz: Dark & Terrible is a grimdark take on Oz by S. Alexander Gentry that uses its own unique rules system.

With the Oz series in the public domain, it's perhaps not surprising that Baum's fairy land established the genre of American Fantasy. We'll discuss the implications of American Fantasy and its influence on role-playing games in a future article.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

log in or register to remove this ad


Crown-Forester (he/him)
Well, that's a gold mine. If i won the lottery, I'd consider becoming a first edition Oz book collector.
They're not in great condition (and some are practically falling apart), so it's not like he can sell them for much (and he wouldn't).

There's a children's bookstore near where I live in NYC though that has practically mint condition 1st edition copies of all the Baum titles (in a locked glass bookshelf). When I saw that I though, "there are still places like this in the world. How lovely." :)


Crown-Forester (he/him)
Books of Wonder did a really good run of first edition recreations a few years back. You can still get those on Amazon, I believe.

FYI, I was talking about Books of Wonder when I said they had the 1st editions at a store near me. Store clerk told me that it's a special passion of the owner. Not surprised they could make recreations of them! :)

Jack Daniel

I used to have both actual 1st editions of several Baum and some Thompson and Neill titles, and a complete collection of the famous forty in reprints (Books of Wonder 1st ed facsimiles, Del Ray paperbacks of the Thompson novels, and Int'l Wizard of Oz Club printings of all the later obscure authors). Sold 'em when I needed the money; it still hurts at times like these.
Last edited:

Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement