|The Wizard's Wireless
Interviews with People Inspired by Oz
Hosted by The Daily Ozmapolitan
A Conversation with F. Douglas Wall
Wall is the author of a unique Oz book. Rather than writing a
new story, he has created an Oz role playing game based on the 14 L. Frank
Baum Oz books in the vein of Dungeons &
Dragons. This is something entirely new in the world of Oz
products. I started our interview by asking him how he initially
discovered the Land of Oz...
FDW: I remember the MGM movie being broadcast fairly regularly on Thanksgiving when I was young. But my strongest early Oz was the Ruth Plumly Thompson books at my local library. They were the Del Rey permabound (paperback-sized hardcover) editions with very neat covers. I later discovered the Baum books there, but they were older, drabber editions. I eventually resolved to read all of the original Baum books and I remember the last one I needed to read was Rinkitink in Oz.
WW: What inspired you to create an Oz RPG based on the book by L. Frank Baum?
FDW: I had found some trade paperbacks of the Dark Oz comics published by Caliber Comics in a used bookstore. It was a fairly straight action-adventure comic set in the land of Oz. I'll be honest and say I don't like them. I think they're missing the point of the Oz stories. When Baum wrote about bad things happening to his characters, it was more to create suspense by putting the characters in very real danger. It was never to create an oppressive mood.
I found myself thinking "This is Oz, but it's not very Ozzy." Being a long-time gamer, I found myself trying to express "What is Ozzy?" as a set of game rules.
I toyed with it as a thought experiment for about a year. Then, in March of 2008, I was laid off from my job after 8 years. Jobless and nearly 30 years old, I decided it was time to take the plunge and do something that I had always wanted to do: Publish my own games.
WW: What was the biggest hurdle in getting this game published?
FDW: My biggest hurdle was definitely the art. Personally, I fail at stick figures. And a project like this calls for lots of art. Gamers are a visually-minded lot and if the game doesn't look its best, they're not going to buy. And I did have to be particular, because if the art wasn't Ozzy, the Oz fans wouldn't buy.
WW: Who have you worked with to illustrate the manual? How did you meet?
FDW: I have worked with quite a few artists over the years (2 years, anyway). I found Amanda Webb (illustration of Cowardly Lion & Hungry Tiger at right), Brad McDevitt, Bryan Fowler (illustration of a Flying Monkey below) and Colin Throm on RPG.net, where they had advertised as freelance RPG artists. I met Adam Dickstein through my blog. Loraine Sammy, who did my cover, was discovered on the links page of Amanda Webb's website. I met S.P. Maldonado on Facebook and he was kind enough to contribute a couple of pieces.
WW: Is there a possibility of producing figurines to go along with the game?
FDW: While props can greatly enhance gameplay, I don't think pewter miniatures are the way to go. They are commonly used in RPGs to determine positioning and movement in combat, which are often fairly regulated. The combat rules in AiO are designed to be much looser and hopefully can be used without such detailed props. Mostly description, and maybe a hastily drawn map.
I do think that other kinds of props can be very useful in gameplay. Young players might want to have an action figure or doll to represent their character, or wear an item or two of costume to get into character. Narrators can use props too, changing hats or props as they speak as different characters or present the players with an item as their characters receive it.
WW: How has Oz affected your life? Are you a casual fan or a hardcore collector?
FDW: Believe it or not, I consider myself to be a casual fan. Even if people reading my blog or the book itself think I've gone over the edge with this Oz thing. I was simply trying to put out the best Oz game that I could, and even if I wasn't a fan, I knew I was going to be judged by the fans and it had to hold up to that level of scrutiny.
WW: What makes your Oz RPG unique from other games?
FDW: Adventures in Oz was designed from the ground up to emulate the Oz stories. Most other companies use a "house system", a fairly generic set of core rules that are then modified based on the setting; Adding elves and magic spells to fantasy games, or space fighters and aliens to science-fiction settings. Some independent publishers are experimenting with purpose-built designs, but the mainstream still prefers the house system approach.
WW: What was it like to playtest the game? Who did you invite to try it out?
FDW: I have a fairly regular gaming group and, while it was something of a hard sell, everyone will admit that they had fun.
I had two players that I really wanted to play magic-users, since I knew they would do their best to break the magic rules I had come up with. Neither of them wanted the position, so one of my other players took it on, but clearly didn't like it. He liked the effects he could pull off and he liked "casting math at the GM" (making me build his spell effects for him), but he wasn't interested in doing the spell effect math on his own.
Though one of the players I had originally hoped would play a mage did wind up breaking the magic rules by coming up with spells like "Download Walkthrough" and "Rocks Fall, Everyone Wishes They Could Die." That helped me realize that the magic rules I had were more "Glinda-scale" than "Wizard-scale" and that they needed to be toned down.
WW: Any ideas for doing an Oz based LARP (live action role playing)?
FDW: I hadn't thought of it until you mentioned it, but it could be interesting. The mental picture that manifests is kind of like an impromptu theme park, with actors in costumes playing various roles while the players interact with the actors as they play through an Oz adventure of some kind.
WW: Who are your favourite Oz characters in the game?
FDW: That's a really hard question. Because the game is not so much about the established characters and more about making your own characters and making your own mark on the land of Oz. I'll say I'm particularly fond of an illustration early in the book depicting Scarecrow and the Patchwork Girl. It's supposed to be their first meeting and the way the artist captured that scene makes me go "awww" a little every time I see it.
WW: What characters from non-Baum Oz books would you like to include in future modules?
FDW: It's been so long since I've read the Thompson books and I've been immersing myself in Baum so much while researching the project that my knowledge of non-Baum Oz characters is fairly limited. The only one I can really come up with right now is Kabumpo the elephant. An adventure scenario involving him could be fun. Though an enterprising player could probably write up an elephant character using the rules in the main book.
WW: What are your future plans for Oz products?
FDW: I have a couple things in the works. I'm currently working with an artist to illustrate "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and put out a new edition of that. Just because there are so many POD editions of that book that give it no respect at all. There's also the setting supplement "Beyond the Deadly Desert". In the main book, I limited myself to the borders of Oz. There's a lot beyond that border that still deserves coverage.
I'd like to do a series of adventure scenarios. Initially, they would be sold individually as PDF files, but once I get enough of them, I would compile them into one book.
All of these things really hinge on the sales of AiO, because that's what will be paying for all of this. I haven't heard of anyone playing the game outside of my initial playtest, but if someone reading this has any feedback, I'd love to hear it!
WW: If you had an opportunity to ask L. Frank Baum one question, what would it be?
FDW: "Do you mind me playing in your sandbox?" L. Frank Baum died before RPGs, the internet, and fan fiction and I wonder how he would have responded to all of it. Would he be delighted that he has sparked so many imaginations into creating their own Oz stories? Or would he view his creation as his alone and resent those who try to expand on his work, as some modern authors do?
WW: If you could own any one of the magical items from Oz, what would it be and why?
FDW: I'd have to say the Golden Cap. I mean, who wouldn't want hordes of Winged Monkeys doing your bidding? ∆
F. Douglas Wall lives
in the Ozzily named city of Eureka, CA where he works in the publishing
industry. As a long time RPG player he has been involved with
GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing Systems), Dungeons & Dragons,
and several other fantasy based games. As such, he has a keen
understanding of the rules and
design of games.
Blair Frodelius lives in
upstate New York and is the
--Interviewed by Blair Frodelius; May 31, 2010Home Again