Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Trouble With Magic

Whether you call it witchcraft or sorcery, one of the big problems of being a spellcaster in Oz is the fact that it's illegal. Argue with the details if you like, but it's proven itself to be a good policy.

But what if one of your players wants to have a magic-using character? While it's fairly easy to say no (I even sort of recommend it in the rulebook), let's take some time to look at the ways to say yes to magic.

Ignore it: Simply that. If your player wants a magic-using character, let them do it. If you're concerned with continuity, make it a "historical" game. From the time of the Four Witches Era through the Scarecrow's Reign and early into the Rule of Princess Ozma, magic was unregulated.

Avoid it: Allow a magic-using character, but keep them out of the Emerald City or any other place where their magical talent could get them into trouble. Or maybe set up your game so that the party is on the run, being pursued across Oz by the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, just like Richard Kimble was chased by Lieutenant Gerard or David Banner was on the run trying to avoid Jack McGee. (JFGI)

Skirt the law: While the law may prohibit the practice of magic, there is nothing wrong with being magical. Many of the queer and unusual inhabitants of Oz have some bit of magic in their background. Unicorns live in the Forest of Gugu and other magical creatures may certainly be found in various corners of Oz.

Register: This may be the climax (or at least major turn) of a pursuit campaign, or it may be a background event in a newly launched Sorcerer character. In my playtest campaign, we decided that our Sorcerer was an apprentice of the Good Witch of the North in order to avoid any potential issues. Exactly what registration entails is pretty vague. Some writers prefer treat it as a simple matter of paperwork, while others may enjoy a little Ozzy courtroom drama before handing out Wizard Licenses.

I actually like the idea of a trial for this scenario. Because I think Princess Ozma is going to want to make sure that any licensed spellcaster is going to use their ability for the benefit of Oz as a whole. This can either make the trial a fun scene as the players recall all of the people they've helped in their adventures, or an adventure hook itself, as the spellcasting character is asked to prove their intentions by going on a special mission.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Cardinal Witch Project

Now that I've gotten a certain amount of baggage off my chest, I think I'm ready to say something constructive about Witches.

In my last post, I mentioned the "Cardinal Witch Theory" and how I didn't care for it. The main reason I dislike it is that it is mostly used as an excuse to bring back the Wicked Witch of the West so that the writer can recreate that particular Oz story dynamic in their own work. Unfortunately, over the years it has become a cliche of groan-worthy proportions.

What can be done to rescue this tired, worn out plot device? Let's take it to its logical conclusion. And rather than using it to tell the same tired story, let's use it to open up new story options.

If the Cardinal Witch Theory were true, then the Mantles of the East and the West would both need new hosts after Dorothy's first adventure. Who are these replacements? There's no guarantee that the replacements would be Wicked. Both the North and South had Wicked Witches that wound up being replaced with Good Witches, so it's not a sure thing.

Here's an idea that would make for an interesting roleplaying scenario: Your party has discovered the next Witch of the West wandering around the Winkie Country. But she (or he!) is new to the power and hasn't decided if they are a Good Witch or a Wicked Witch. So the things your characters do and teach her will influence which side she eventually settles on. If a player wants to have a Sorcerer character and is interested in a roleplaying challenge, this could be a fun role for them.

And what about the North and South? We've met both the Good Witch and the (deposed) Wicked Witch of the North, so death or destruction is not necessary to pass on the Mantle of a Cardinal Witch. What circumstances are required to cause the power to move from one person to another? Can it be triggered deliberately? Or does the Mantle itself make the decision for reasons only it knows?

What if Glinda stopped being the Witch of the South? Would she still be able to use magic? Would she still be allowed to rule the Quadlngs? Why did she lose the Mantle? Who is her successor?

All of these questions can fuel several stories, whether you choose to write them down or play them out.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ever since Tim Brannon was kind enough to post his review of Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, I've wanted to repay the favor by blogging about one of his favorite subjects: Witches. It's actually a subject that I haven't touched on very much and every time I stared at this screen trying to write that blog, I've been confronted with all the reasons that I haven't gone into depth of the witches of Oz.

1 ) Book vs. Movie. One of the most famous of the Oz witches is, of course, the Wicked Witch of the West. This is due to the very memorable performance of Margaret Hamilton in the classic MGM film. But the book version of the WWW is a different character with a smaller role in the story. I could go into depth, but that's one of the blogs I've been trying to avoid writing. Because if you've read the book, you know all of that already. If you haven't read the book, it tends to come off as movie trivia ("Look at all the things you don't really know about the Wicked Witch of the West!").

2) Cardinal Witch Theory. This is the idea that there must always be a Witch of the North, South, East and West. People tend to like this idea because it lets them put the Wicked Witch of the West back into play. But it's not supported by the rest of the series. Once the Wicked Witch of the West is defeated, the Tin Woodman takes over ruling her territory and does so for the rest of the series. There is also no successor to the Wicked Witch of the East. But of course, since all we see of her is a pair of feet under a house, we don't care about her as much.

3) There's more to Oz than the Yellow Brick Road. Look at the top of your screen. That's what this blog is called. Because one of the things that I wanted to do from the beginning was to reinforce and encourage the idea that Wizard is only one story of Oz. Not only are there several other Oz stories out there (that are a fantastic joy to read), but AiO is about creating Oz stories of your own. So my objective is to give you a broad range of ideas, rather than stick you with one story, one format, one style.
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