"Adventures in Oz"
Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
F. Douglas Wall
When L. Frank Baum created the amazing land of Oz and it's charming/charmed inhabitants he intended to created children's stories. Baum thought the tales of the Brother's Grimm were dark for children and found Lewis Carroll's tales of Wonderland to be to confusing for young people. Baum wanted something simpler and sweeter. The great strength of F. Doulas Wall's RPG, "Adventures in Oz", is that Wall gets Baum's intent.
Most modern approaches to Oz have focused on making them more serious, darker, more for grown-ups. There's nothing wrong with this approach, but it does turn the basic concept of Oz on its head. As such I found the premise of the game refreshing in its traditionalism.
"Adventures in Oz" is about a land of magical whimsy, one that children can love and build their own stories on. And that's the point of RPGs: creative people (regardless of age) weaving stories together. Oz, as presented in the original stories, is a land of talking animals, walking puzzle people and even pastries come to life. AiO doesn't apologize for this, doesn't try to update it or make it more logical, this game celebrates imagination and whimsy.
On that point alone AiO is a winner.
This system as present is simple and basic. This is a plus for a game that clearly envisions children a frequent players. To see if their character has succeeded in a challenge the player rolls two six-sided dice. If one of their dice comes up matching or lower than their appropriate Skill they have succeeded, if both succeed they get a Special Success. If both exceed the Skill level then the character fails.
To build their characters players pick from one of several Templates based on characters from the novel: Child in Oz (like Dorothy), Crafted Person (like the Scarecrow), Large Animal (like the Cowardly Lion), etc. From there the player may modify the Template to create the character they envision. Its simple and fast.
One of the things I quite like about the AiO system is that causing real injury to a character (be they a PC or an NPC) is very hard. Instead most damage is taken against a character's Wits score. When the Wits score hits bottom the victim gives up or runs away. It keeps the game from being about stomping people for the sake of it and helps maintain the fun feeling of a kid's book.
But the key to making this game feel less like a typical swords and sorcery game and more like a children's odyssey is that to earn Oz Points (the game's equivalent to Experience Points) the characters must Make New Friends and Help the Friends they already have. This isn't a game about beating up monsters and looting them after. It's about friendship.
This is a wonderful and elegant rule. When I gave this game a test run my players (all adults) instantly understood what the game was about when I explained how they would achieve success in the game.
Not only is this a rule that fits the Oz stories perfectly but Hall has stumbled upon the easiest fix ever for one of the great challenges facing any game master saddled with a disparate group of characters. Why are all these odd folks who may have little in common traveling and working together? Because they are friends!
Again when we played the game all I had to do was tell the players that all of their characters were friends and it instantly saved so much time in trying to figure out a way to explain why a Fuddle Princes, a Large Bear, a Stained Glass person and a Flying Cheese-Monkey would all be on the Yellow Brick Road together. They were all friends, and we can all understand having friends who are very different than we are.
And because all the characters are friends that means they earn Oz Points for helping each other. Again, this simple rule works perfectly on each level.
As much as I love "Adventures in Oz" I do have to admit that there are some problems.
Some are easily ignored (like the occasional clumsy sentence) and others easily fixed. As I've mentioned Oz Points are very important to the game yet the character sheets provided have no designated space to note them. Since this is a print-on-demand product proof reading corrections and an adjustment to the character sheets should be simple corrections.
One of the strengths of the book is that a good chunk of it (from page 56 through page 111) is a Gazetteer of the places and people of Oz. But to really make good use of this section (and the rest of the book as well) an index would be a wonderful addition. For instance it was a bit of a challenge to look up information on Scraps, the Patchwork Girl and I felt a bit silly holding the book in my had while I used the internet to find information about her quickly. An index would also help first time players and Narrators find rules.
All in all I really loved "Adventures in Oz". It fired my imagination and provided me with basic, simple tools to get me and my friends going down a Yellow Brick Road all of our own.