By Jason Campbell
Last month I began a campaign using Adrew Kolb’s Oz ttrpg setting and the rules of the Cypher System and its extension We Are All Mad Here. I expect this to be a short campaign of 4-8 sessions, but this is a guess. The campaign began with a couple of plot threads for the players to explore but how the story proceeds would be up to the group.
The players all created their own characters. We did this with an optional pre-session of an hour where players brought character concepts or as much character as they had built and we worked on these together. I’d already sent out information on the setting and my expectations for the game through Discord text channels. I’d anticipated this would be a mini campaign of about 6-8 sessions. I didn’t have a specific scenario or plot in mind, this was just what I thought was likely to be the general opinion of the group. I’m open to it continuing on, if all of the players are interested. Andrew Kolb’s Oz setting is a point crawl over 5 districts of the land of Oz, based on the writings of L. Frank Baum. The setting includes themes such as “are good and evil ‘black and white’, and what about the gray areas in between?” We use the game system Cypher System from Monte Cook Games, with special influence of the We Are All Mad Here sourcebook by Shanna Germain. This book was created to run fairy tale style adventures , in settings from traditional princes and frogs in palaces to gritty modern cities. It has optional ideas about exploring mental health issues in games, and this aspect of the book is extremely well written and edited, with obvious care taken to sensitivity of the subject.
As GM I discussed with the players that I wanted to tell a story about all of their characters and I was hoping to lean into each character’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. The combination of these two books support this sort of theme quite well. The players were all on board with this direction and created intriguing characters. This sort of game won’t be for every player so it was important to make sure this was the sort of game that each player would enjoy. There’s a right game for every player but not every player is right for every game.
I didn’t limit character species and encouraged the players to use their imaginations, which they certainly did. One character is a winkie of the Olive Knights who is a clumsy warrior who stands like a bastion. Another is a Gingerbread person, a lucky explorer who runs away. A third is a former pet cat of a rich and famous author who now sees themselves as the poet, a charming speaker who moves like a cat. I’d given out some ideas about NPCs the PCs might meet in Oz, so players might have an idea of what odd characters they may encounter within Oz.
Our session zero consisted of the first part of our first session where we discussed my GM style, each of our expectations for the game and details like what to do if a player couldn’t make a session.
As far as a starting place for our story I left it open in case the basics of the setting gave any ideas to the players about a potential questor path to follow. I also had a couple of plot threads in case that was more to the groups’ tastes:
- The Worthy Warm Hearted Wizard of Munchkinland , Top Dawg, died. The PCs are indebted to the Warden for reasons they define. He tasked the PCs with the task of finding his appropriate successor. They need to find it soon or the Wretched Worrying Witch Heralyn will take the Crown as the eldest resident of the region.
- The PCs find people who want help to find the lost kingdom of Din Pobl. It is a kingdom that no one remembers ever existing and there’s a completely different city there now.
The players decided to begin with the second option and I had them all meet at a musical performance. Some knew each other and others did not, but they were standing together coincidentally when an NPC (a talking coat rack with large green glasses) bumped into them asking if they could direct them to the kingdom of Din Pobl. The PCs were completely confused as they had never heard of this place and were quite familiar with the area it was described as being in, but a different city was there and had been for centuries. Being friendly types the PCs offered to help the NPC and the adventure began. They’ve encountered belligerent cows (all animals talk in Oz), a talking book that runs a library and Uppity Boat, a steam boat that they hired to take them up river. They battled assassin moths with tiny bows and arrows who claimed to be from “the Then” and were attempting to remove the coat rack from “the Now”.
I should note that the scenario and characters noted above are all our ideas, not anything pulled from the books. Oz does not contain an adventure but in the back there are many tables of random events, items, motivations and much more. In this way you could begin an Oz campaign with nearly no preparation by rolling on tables as needed. The book suggests how to start a campaign with just a handful of GM decisions. Oz also contains its own system for managing the PCs’ fame as they adventure from area to area, as well as suggestions for movement form area to area. Its a very well thought out system and will likely influence your ideas of “wilderness” adventures going forward.
We Are All Mad Here does contain a few adventures in a land called Heartwood. These adventures are well written and range from shorter one shots to longer campaign adventures. I’ve found they work well as adventures to run (The Apple-Pip Witch is a particular favorite) or as inspiration for your own adventures.