Thursday, October 27, 2011

Smith & Tinkering

Believe it or not, I actually am working on Beyond the Deadly Desert (And I'll have a special announcement in that regard in a few days).

One of the things I'm wrangling with is letting players take on the role of inventors like Smith & Tinker, the duo who crafted Tik-Tok. The options that I'm thinking of are:

1) A character who has purchased the Craftsman trait can make wonders given sufficient time and effort.

2) A character who has purchased the Craftsman trait can make wonders by following the basic procedures for making magic items (gather exotic ingredients/spend Oz Points).

3) A character must purchase the Craftsman trait as well as an additional 1-point trait in order to make wonders using the rules for making magic items.

The big question is: How rare are such geniuses? Was Mr. Tinker simply specialized in a different way than Ku-Klip the Tinsmith, did he have access to better materials, or did he have a much greater understanding of his craft?

What do you think?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Emerald City

Not Seattle, of course, but the Emerald City of Oz.

That's the premise of a rather interesting story I read some time ago called Up The Rainbow by Susan Casper. It was published in the December 1994 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine (which is the form I have it in). A quick Google search reveals that it was once available as an e-book, but none of the listed sellers are selling it any more. (If anyone can find a legal download link for this story, please let me know. It's a good story and I'd like to share it with you)

When the story opens, Dorothy Gale has died at the ripe old age of 93. Her granddaughter, Gale Osterman is therefore all alone, having separated from her husband earlier in the year and left her job behind to care for her grandmother in her final days. While it was generally acknowledged that Grandma Dorothy was THE Dorothy from the Oz stories, everyone thinks that she was merely the inspiration for the stories rather than the actual heroine.

As she's going through her grandmother's personal things along with her cat Spooky, she discovers a small stone with the letters OZ etched into it. A few moments later, they find themselves magically transported to Oz, where they discover that Spooky can now talk (and has a bit of a pottymouth).

After a bit of confusion, Gale is accepted as Dorothy's granddaughter and made a Princess of Oz. Preparations are made for a great feast to be held to mark the occasion. In the meanwhile, it's time for the Scarecrow to get his eyes repainted by Jinjur and Gale is sent along to give her something to do.

Gale and the Scarecrow are separated, leaving Gale to wander around Munchkinland on her own. While trying to find the Scarecrow and Jinjur, she winds up meeting some of the normal citizens of Oz who ask her to intercede on their behalf with Ozma. As she listens to these stories, she realizes that Oz isn't the perfect world Baum presented it as.Link
Although her passion for social justice faded when her marriage collapsed (her and her husband were both devoted activists), she finds it rekindled and helps organize the people of Oz into a protest movement. She even helps them paint signs with such clever mottoes as "Ban The Baum" and "Magic Is A Rite."

The land of Oz had never seen non-violent resistance. Glinda's girl army had no one to fight, even though the mob refused to disperse at Ozma's command. So they had nothing left to do but negotiate.

Now, many of you Oz fans are reading this and shaking your heads. Because you've all read stories exactly like this and they all suck. But this story showed no signs of being a Fix Fic or Author Tract, and Gale is definitely not a Mary Sue. Rather, the story focuses on Gale and how these events reignite her activist spirit. I found the main idea of the story rather close to an idea that was originally presented in Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The idea that "Whatever it is you want or think you need, you already have it."

Also, the complaints that the people of Oz have could present some interesting scenarios for adventures.

In the story, there's a little boy who would very much like to grow up, even though it means that he'll eventually grow old and die. Perhaps your players could encounter an Ozite looking to die by seeking out all of the dangers of Oz. Or a boy who wishes to undergo a Rite of Passage so that he may become a man. This is, of course, a magical rite that will transform him into an adult.

The story also challenges the ban on magic in Oz. Dr. Pipt may no longer be crooked, but all of the time and energy he spent learning his magic is now wasted without his ability to use it. Another character is a seamstress who could make magical clothing before the ban went into effect.

So what if your game includes a helpful sorcerer who is nevertheless persecuted because of his magical practice? Heck, what about Red Reera, who pretty much ended the Flathead/Skeezer War from her cottage? Although she chooses to remain hidden at the end of the story, what about later? What's going to happen when Ozma discovers her? Will her power be taken away, or will she be allowed to keep it in gratitude for her service?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This Is The (Emerald) City

This week, we're stepping out of the Palace and hitting the streets of the Emerald City.

The most curious feature of the city, and all of Oz in general is its lack of money. While early stories mention money in passing, it is never a plot point. By Road to Oz, Baum had apparently decided that money didn't exist in Oz.

So why do people work if there's no money, no way to get ahead? Largely out of necessity. In communities as small as those in Oz (the largest population number we are given is 101), every hand is needed to ensure the success of the entire community. Most communities have a leader of some kind, whether they call that person Mayor, Duke, King or Queen. This person is generally well taken care of by their community, but exactly how well depends on how much the community is willing or able to provide. If the community cannot use all that it produces, the excess usually gets sent to a regional potentate (such as Emperor Nick Chopper of the Winkies) or directly to the Emerald City.

Larger communities (such as the massive Emerald City) make this sort of arrangement trickier, but not impossible. Princess Ozma (or more likely, some functionary) takes a direct role in the distribution of needed supplies to and from the Royal Storehouses, combining a degree of socialism with the relatively pure communism of rural Oz.

The Emerald City does have a number of shops lining its streets, but most of these are more accurately described as distribution centers. Emerald Citizens may go into any shop and ask for items that they want or need. Other shops are workshops, where craftsmen receive a share of raw materials from the Royal Stores and turn it into finished products before passing it on to customers.

The tradition of hospitality that exists throughout Oz is still upheld in the Emerald City. A number of inns, hotels, restaurants and pubs serve travelers and locals who need a night out, a place to meet with friends, or simply a quick bite between here and there. So if you feel like doing the whole "You all meet in a tavern" bit, you can definitely do that.

What does this do for crime? Between the lack of material need and the fact that nobody can be killed, there's not a lot of crime in the Emerald City. But the crime that does happen tends to be personal. If someone steals from you, it's because they want that object, not because they can sell it for a lot of money.

One crime that is unique to the Emerald City is that of Mooching. That is, enjoying the benefits of the Emerald City's distribution network without contributing to the welfare of the city. The easiest way to do this is to avoid work. Some gluttons take deliberate pains to accumulate all the goods they can acquire, but these criminals don't last too long. They will either get discovered in short order, or they will burn out on consumption rather soon. If you are caught breaking this law, you will either be given work or asked to leave the city.

Law enforcement is fairly weak. There are no police, but none are really necessary. Because of how the city works, criminals stand out. Thieves steal personal treasures, not costly knickknacks. Unlawful practice of magic leads to more powerful and more obvious spells. The Guardian of the Gates is most often called upon for law enforcement duties, as his previous responsibility of fitting green glasses to everyone entering the city has become irrelevant. He is not terribly clever, but he's friendly enough that he gets the help he needs to ensure the safety of the Emerald City and its people.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Cast An Ozzy Spell: The Magic Book of Records

This book is said to be one of the most powerful magical objects in all of Oz. Within its pages is a description of every event as it occurs, no matter how small. Even though the book is very large, the amount of information within it means that the writing must be very small.

Power: Divination (2)
Scope: The Whole World (5)
Ritual: Complex (-1)
Item: Limited Use (-2)
Effect Power: 4

As with most information gathering magic, the Scope is determined by the area that is being scanned for information. Although the book requires no actual magical ritual to use it, it must be read closely and researched in order to gain useful knowledge, which takes sufficient effort that I'm making it worth a discount. The Limited Use modifier represents the fact that the Book is permanently housed in Glinda's Palace and anyone wishing to use it must travel there.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Emerald Sandbox

I know this is late, but it's taken some time to assemble my thoughts on this subject.

Last week, I talked about using the land of Oz, or some section thereof as a sandbox/pinball setting and creating things for characters to bounce off of. This week, I want to go to the heart of Oz, the Emerald City.

There are actually two levels to an Emerald City campaign: The Palace, and the City itself. Most familiar to Oz fans is the Palace, containing Ozma, Dorothy and all of their friends. It's where many stories start, end, or simply change.

The challenge of the Palace is that everyone gets along. A story can't really happen unless there's a conflict to resolve. Now, your characters can provide that conflict, trying to push their agenda and watching how their favorite Oz characters react to it. But if they just want to bounce off of the established cast, you should put more effort into strengthening the differences that the characters have.

While I tend to point to the Emerald City as the point where my playtest campaign fell flat, there were a couple of things that went well. Specifically, Bungle the Glass Cat and Jellia Jamb. The reason being that both of these characters had agendas. Jellia likes playing jokes on people and Bungle wants to be admired.

Coming up with conflicting agendas for the different characters doesn't mean that they have to become enemies or even stop liking each other. Take The Wogglebug and the Scarecrow, for example. Both of them are smart people, but go about it rather differently. The Scarecrow was created knowing nothing, and is eager to learn new things. The Wogglebug studied in the classroom of Professor Nowitall and is eager to show off what he knows. So the Scarecrow's agenda of "learn new things" can interact with Woigglebug's agenda "Show off what you know" in a number of ways, including a few that can create a story-worthy conflict.

Next week, I will stat some Ozzy thing from the books (If there's something you would like to see, feel free to ask for it) and the week after, I'll try to continue with a look at the mean (not really) streets of the Emerald City.
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