OZ: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting by Andrew Kolb is a setting for modern tabletop role-playing games and optimized for D&D 5e. This setting takes inspiration from the original series of books and films and expands the location into a bustling metropolis for players to explore.
I never knew that I’d love exploring the world of Oz. I wasn’t that moved by the film as a child and I never realized that the original author, L. Frank Baum, write fourteen books in the series. Thankfully Andrew Kolb challenges my assumptions of film and literature with a tabletop RPG setting that is rich with locations, characters, and “endless layers of secrets.” As a fan of OSR style RPGs I am always on the lookout for interesting material to use for adventures. Oz A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting delivers more than I anticipated for a tabletop RPG setting with characters, maps, locations, a train system, random tables, and more.
What is “OZ: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting”?
OZ: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting is a world-building guide for tabletop role-playing games (RPGs). The book provides detailed descriptions of various locations, characters, and factions within the fictional world of Oz, as well as guidelines for creating characters and running a game in this setting. The system is compatible with D&D 5e but can be used with many RPG systems. The book and setting work especially well with OSR (Old School Revival) games. The setting is inspired by the classic books of L. Frank Baum, as well as the many adaptations that have been made over the years. Kolb takes creative liberty in bringing the themes of the series into a cohesive world for players to explore.
A Beautiful Tome of Secrets
We start our path to the Emerald City through a beautiful tome of secrets, blue with green foil adorning the cover. The printing of this book is gorgeous and the design shows a labor of love. Color-coded block along the page edges allow easy navigation to sections – The World, The Cast, The Land, Resources. Everything in the book is designed with attention to detail.
Who is the Dreamer?
Our adventure opens with a small section of text that explains the background of Oz and your role as the guide in this land of secrets. Is this a dreamland or is this real? That’s up to you as the host of this adventure. “Only you know which stories are real and which are tangled in a web of deceit.”
While this may sound a bit loose for the GM, this book is a setting to use with your own RPG adventures. This is a book with with characters, history, relics, and cities to explore. Kolb calls it “an urban Pointcrawl setting.” Oz seems like a land that could be applied to many tabletop RPG systems from D&D to Kids on Bikes. While the cover states the game is D&D 5e compatible, this setting can be used with any RPG and works especially well with OSR and PbtA game systems.
Entering the World of Oz
The book begins with a breakdown of important characters, personalities, factions, and timeline of the Oz universe. This is a succinct but useful bridge into the world of role playing this setting. Information on things like magic, climate, politics, and currency are covered along with some basic game mechanics for movement and exploration.
Oz presents itself as a “pointcrawl.” This is a type of adventure map that is made up of a series of points, each of which represents a location. The players move their characters from point to point, and they encounter challenges and opportunities at each location. Pointcrawls are used to represent the four main regions of Oz: Munchkinland, Winkie Country, Quadling Country, and the Emerald City. Each region is divided into a number of points, and each point is described in detail. The points include everything from forests and mountains to villages and cities.
What is a city without characters? Lots of love has been written into this section of this book with NPCs of all sorts that doubles as a bestiary of creatures. The characters in Oz are a varied and interesting bunch from Gargoyles who have their own sign language to sentient baked goods called Doughans who are usually bakers and sometimes thieves. The details that are written for NPC characters make personalities come to life in this section. I agree with Kolb as he mentions “the contrast of character can make Oz feel more alive and nuanced.”
The book come with a number of pre-made characters for players to use. Perforated pages at the back of the book offer cast selections like Angry Turtle, Gentle Blacksmith, Coal Mine Canary, Clockwork Boxer, Magic Bones, and The Ringmaster. Character attributes are designed to work with D&D 5e but can be easily adapted to most systems.
As you can tell by its title, locations are what this book does best. Each location offers many details including a transit system designed to navigate around the different areas. There are four main regions of Oz: Munchkinland, Winkie Country, Quadling Country, and the Emerald City. Each region is described in detail, with information on its geography, climate, culture, and inhabitants.
Winkie Country is a lush and fertile land. It is home to the Winkies, a friendly and industrious people.
Quadling Country is a dry and barren land. It is home to the Quadlings, a proud and independent people.
Munchkin Country is a colorful and cheerful land. It is home to the Munchkins, a kind and gentle people.
Emerald City is the capital of Oz. It is a beautiful city made entirely of emeralds.
Oz features an above ground monorail called Overground and a below-ground train called the Underground. The train system in in this setting is an impressive part of Kolb’s world building and allows players to navigate around the locations of the book easily. Almost every location has a train stop with a “what’s nearby” section to allow easy navigation around the land of Oz. The trains are powered by a magical force called the Railroad of Lightning and operated by a group of people called the Railroaders who are skilled in the art of train operation and maintenance. Trains are made of a variety of materials including metal, wood, and glass. They are typically long and narrow with a number of cars that are connected together. The trains can travel at high speeds and they can reach any destination in Oz within a matter of hours.
Did I mention the maps? This book is full of maps. Maps in the front and back of the book. Fold-out maps. Maps of transit systems. Maps of rooms. Maps of cities. The attention to detail in cartography and location design is wonderful. This book could stand alone just as a book of maps for RPGs but the addition of the transit system, cultures, and details in each location bring Oz to life.
Illustration and Design
Lovely black and white illustrations of characters and artifacts adorn this volume with a cohesive vision due to Kolb acting as writer and illustrator. Color splashes the pages as a tool to frame information or mark sections. Tip of the hat to art director Holly Swayne and graphic designer Sierra S. Stanton who helped design this lovely book as well. Pages are designed for easy reading and information can be found quickly though the table of contents and color-coded sections. Attention to detail runs from typeface selection (which are easy to read) to thoughtfully designed character sheets and tear-out maps in the back of the book.
Ideas for Aspiring Game Designers
It’s apparent that Andrew Kolb understands how much RPG enthusiasts love to create their own worlds. One of my favorite pages is a system for map making that shows how to draw street and building maps along with how to use dice to randomize your buildings. A robust Sketchbook section near the back of the book seems useful for anyone interested in RPG world building as Kolb goes into detail about design concepts and research into Oz as a setting.
How This Oz RPG Setting Was Created
In 2018, Kolb decided to self-publish his first book, Neverland: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting which was based on the famous Peter Pan locale. The book was a success, and it inspired Kolb to create a similar book for Oz. Kolb spent two years researching, illustrating, and writing the new title. He consulted the original L. Frank Baum books as well as other Oz-related media. He also interviewed fans and experts on Oz.
In an interview with Gary Snow on Dieku Games, Kolb mentioned that after the success of Neverland he wanted to expand the vision of his next RPG setting and asked himself, ”What is it that I would want to run.. What is it that makes this book need to be made?” The result was a push into an urban role playing setting with social interactions, something he may have feared writing previously. “I think before I had written this book I was really scared to run an adventure set in a city, and then kept asking myself ‘why?’ and trying to solve those problems.”
Final Thoughts on Oz: A Fantasy Role-Playing Setting
If you’ve read this far you can probably tell that I am enjoying this setting. The book is gorgeous and well-written. It’s a joy to read and explore. This is not always the case with RPG books, so tip of the hat to Kolb for putting in so much effort. For my own practical purposes, Oz fits very nicely into OSR campaigns with well-developed NPCs, interesting locations, and random tables. This is a setting I didn’t know I needed but plan to use for many RPG campaigns in the future.