This is what happened when we played Steampunk Oz

So, I ran a Steampunk Oz Fate playtest last weekend. Now, please understand that my grasp on Fate is imperfect, at best, and my players didn’t understand the system well at all…. and one of the players is traditionally a power-gamer, so it’s already challenging to play with him sometimes.

“Our game design goal is family-style play….”

Oh, dear.

It veered sharply away from “family friendly” into “dark and twisted” rather rapidly. I had 2 players, so we had a bombadier flying monkey and a munchkin-devouring intelligent lion. The lion had “hunted by munchkins” as his trouble, and the monkey had “hunted by Glinda” for his.

My comment on the setting is that there needs to be more “punk” in the steampunk. There has to be a way to fall through the cracks, push the boundaries, and challenge the status quo, or it lacks the “punk” part. With that in mind, I gave Sly Island the aspect of “Glinda never visits,” so we had 2 arbitrary factions, a lot of winged monkeys (also an aspect), and a lot of pink and blue paint.

During character creation, since we only had 2 players, I added an NPC who tied into their stories, and then set him aside for later. Honestly, I recommend this for any GM– take the character sheets as they rotate around the table and add an npc or organization to the crossovers.

Anyway, they arrived at Sky Island and picked a pink merchant to shop at. Found parts from the NPC (a metal man), and were immediately concerned. The lion snuck in after hours to steal the parts, while the winged monkey followed the merchant to an unlicensed tavern, where pink and blue factions drink, gamble, and complain about women together.

The PCs reunited in the fountain square and headed off to an inn for the night. In the morning, the innkeeper thanked them, and informed them they wouldn’t be staying on– all the rooms were booked for the night. This was because a huge munchkin meeting of the guilds was happening today.

Sky Island suddenly got the aspect “flooded with munchkins.” I did mention the lion had a thing for munchkin meat, right?

The PCs proceeded to spread rumors that the munchkins had been stealing Quadling babies (we decided most of the Sky Island residents are quadlings), and the Quadlings got all up in arms, deciding that they must DO something. I know– we’ll hold a parade!

The lion just kind of glared at them like “this is the best you can do?” with his big teeth showing.

So, while the quadlings planned their parade, the flying monkey made pink paint bombs to drop on the munchkin delegates, just to rile them up. He recruited the Lots of Winged Monkeys aspect to serve as bombers (which led to comments about prostitute monkeys…. please don’t ask me how that happened).

The PCs snuck onto the munchkin airship and found their friend, who was being reprogrammed by munchkin engineers. The monkey stealthily dropped a programming card (we decided copper-plated punch cards are how metal men are programmed), and they took off.

The munchkins set up their own counter-protest-parade, and the two groups, increasingly riled up, met in the fountain square for an enormous musical clash and dance-off.

Yeah. Dance off. Because they’re freaking munchkins, okay?

Yes, the lion still wanted to eat them. Possibly moreso.

The metal man was lowered out of the airship using the crane one of the players had added to it earlier. But wait– will his new programming kick in?

The PCs appealed to his aspects (Forgiving Nature and “File Not Found”), switching him to their side. The dance-off became increasingly more frenetic, with the quadlings winning out as munchkins dropped of exhaustion. The PCs and their robot friend were reunited. A few munchkins were eaten as a matter of course.

And I could go the rest of my life without ever hearing the phrase “munchkin meat” again.

My conclusion is that, as a GM, you have to steer the story towards the silly in order to keep the lighthearted “Oz” feel. Otherwise, adults can get pretty dark with this familiar childhood favorite. And they definitely need something to work within– just having “Glinda never visits” is a great aspect to remove the threat of the ever-seeing Glinda the “Good.” Neither player wanted to be on Glinda’s side– the government of Oz is definitely viewed as authoritarian and oppressive, at least by the adults I played with.