Friday, September 21, 2012

Time, Time, Time

For those of you who have read the transcript of the IRC Q&A I did a few weeks ago, I got a couple of questions that I wanted to give a bit more depth and attention to.

[19:54] <~Dan> On a related note... what is the tech level of Oz? I recall the Scarecrow (I think) packing a revolver in the movie.

Well, for those movie trivia buffs, the Scarecrow did indeed carry a revolver for a brief time in the film.

On the broader question of technology in Oz: There's a temptation to look at Oz as a historical relic. A product of the early 1900's. Especially after Disney's Return to Oz painstakingly recreated turn of the century Kansas for its opening scenes.

But if you actually look at the Oz stories and Baum's work in general, you'll see that he was very enthusiastic about the advances that were being made in science and technology all around him. One of his pre-Oz works, The Master Key, was a fairy story intended to illustrate the principles of electricity as they were understood at the time.

In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Baum describes how he re-established contact with Oz via wireless telegraph (radio, basically) after he had lost contact at the end of the previous story. (In reality, Baum wanted to write things other than Oz and he knew that the only way the children would accept it was if he said that there was no way for more stories to be written. So he had Oz formally separated from the rest of the world at the conclusion of The Emerald City of Oz). Also in Patchwork, Baum introduces a character called Vic who is a living phonograph with a rag-time record on his turntable.

Those references might seem dated, but that's actually the point. Baum presented Oz in a very modern way back in 1913. It also helped make the land of Oz more comprehensible to his readers. Allowing them to believe that Oz was just as modern as the real world meant that he didn't have to explain the minutia of how Oz people lived and worked and let him focus on providing adventures.

Another interesting thing to note about the series is the clothing that the characters wear. Although Baum does not describe what characters are wearing usually, it was up to John R. Neill to draw them. And when he depicted the American characters, he tended to draw them wearing relatively modern clothes. And considering that his tenure with Oz stretched from 1904-1942, that makes for a lot of variation as fashions evolved. (Not that the characters were amazingly fashionable, but Dorothy generally looked like a little girl who could live on your street.)

So when you set up your game, don't necessarily try to force it to be a "period piece." But do be aware of the effects that technology can have on the structure of a typical Oz story. The big problem technologies are transportation and weaponry. The typical Oz story is a journey from one place to another, with lots of opportunity for small adventures and encounters in between. If cars or other types of rapid travel are commonplace, it will be possible to head directly to a destination very quickly without a lot of interruption. (Not that you can't have a lot of fun cruising down the Yellow Brick Freeway, if you were so inclined.)

I point out weapons technologies for a couple of reasons. First of all, war and destruction have never been major parts of Oz history or culture. It's unlikely that Ozma would encourage the development (or importation) of the sort of things that the militaries of the world like to parade around in. Secondly, because my combat rules lean to the unrealistic side. Players who want to fire an RPG (that's Rocket Propelled Grenade) at the Wheelers are likely to be disappointed with how the system handles the results.

Well, that wraps up my in-depth answer to that question. In the interest of keeping your head from exploding, I'll save the next topic I wanted to touch on for another post. See you soon!


Rob Barrett said...

How have the Oz books handled the technology question? A quick perusal of Wikipedia entries has shown me that airplanes and flying cars have made appearances in post-Baum novels. Have computers shown up? Is there an Ozian internet?

Nathan said...

There are some books that have someone in Oz using the Internet, but they're rare. While Oz keeps up with our technology in some ways, there are other ways in which it doesn't. For instance, Baum never put railroads there. And while the Scarecrow does have a revolver in the movie, guns that appear in the books are usually riles.

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