Favorite Media That Should Be An RPG — #RPGaDay2015, Day 9
This entry has amusing potential. The first thing that occurs to me is that most of my favorite media have been made into RPG’s already. I mean, if we rank my general obsessions in order, we’ve already got a quick couple of hits without working very hard. Star Wars has seen three separate RPG adaptations, Game of Thrones has been done in a D20 edition by Guardians of Order and the Chronicle System by Green Ronin, Star Trek was done by FASA, Task Force Games and Last Unicorn Games, Battlestar Galactica was given an adaptation at the hands of Margaret Weis Productions and Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth has seen a GURPS treatment. I guess I could tag Foster’s Spellsinger series, but any gamer worth their salt could adapt that world to any number of extant systems. Other than the titular spellsinging, there isn’t much to separate any of the milieu from any other fantasy setting, talking animals notwithstanding.
Secondly, there’s the general adaptability of properties in the hands of gamers. Even a wildly complex worldset isn’t hard to put to paper with the current crop of games in the marketplace. Hells, the number of times I’ve heard a gamer talking about bringing this or that idea to Fate is incalculable. And as we’ve seen with the Fate adaptation of Mass Effect, it can be done extremely well. (Even if the broader implications of this adaptation are in question.)
So, to properly serve this category, I suppose this would have to encompass a property that required a) broader and more granular systems to properly encompass the feel of the game as translated from its original form or b) a staff of writers to add onto the property in a way that gelled with the original ideas put forth in the property’s existing milieu.
Let’s consider each of these aspects for a moment, with a couple of examples to illustrate where I’m going with the core assumptions I’m working under.
And just to get it out of the way, let’s set aside the reality that pretty much anything can be modeled with Fate rules. That’s sort of a given in discussions like this, which I pretty much assign as State Zero. Since Fate tends to be wholly universal, you can accept the assumption and move onto other topics.
If you want to put together a properly granular system to simulate the particulars of a given property, there are specific qualities that must be considered for the translation to RPG material. Let’s put Star Wars on the block for this one. In the FFG Star Wars games, there is a fully discrete system to model equipment for the sake of blaster, armor and vehicle customization. This falls directly in line with much of the spirit of the movies and the expanded properties of the Star Wars universe. Han Solo discusses why the Falcon is better than equivalent ships, Gallandro is known for his custom pistols, Boba Fett’s armor and weaponry is unique to him, and lightsaber design prefigures a great deal of the personality of the individual Jedi Knights. Similarly, there is a careful dissection of Force Powers, allowing careful customization of Jedi characters as they develop. This falls in line with the feel of the expanded universe, where each Jedi character had their own area of specialty.
What if we were to apply this sort of system to another referenced property, Spellsinger?
There isn’t a lot of necessary system tweaks that are needed for the world. The most interesting parts of the general society are the differentiation of the particular species of creatures. Warmblooded creatures form the main society that the reader is introduced to, the insects are the ancient and feared enemies, and arachnids are a sort of neutral party that is persuaded to help in the war. Reptiles (with the exception of dragons) are the unintelligent animals that serve as food and service creatures. Other than this, there isn’t a lot that differentiates things from something like Pathfinder or even Warhammer Fantasy. In fact, the latter might be a better fit, given the outwardly crappy level of civilization and magic in a low fantasy setting.
The other criterion I set forth above was the dedicated staff that exists to add depth and detail to an established setting to bring forth new insight or direction for the property. It’s one thing to have a game where the players are re-creating the protagonists of the media for their own adventures. (Oddly, the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG skirts the edge of violating this precept, even as they offer ways to expand the setting. When the books exist as a faithful and loving episode guide, even as they talk of new directions, it’s a little hard to figure out how the game is meant to be played.)
To revisit the Star Wars example, the WEG D6 version of the game was so detail-oriented that Lucasfilm used the books as their own internal guides. One of the original WEG writers, Pablo Hidalgo, went on to work for Lucasfilm on this basis, having shown his knowledge of the property to a sufficient extent.
And to apply it to the Spellsinger license, anyone familiar with the novels would quickly realize that this level of detail is completely unnecessary. Foster himself added onto the setting as he went along, with each subsequent novel going in some unexplored direction and throwing together whatever detail was needed. While a new staff of writers could go ahead and add brand new nations and the like, it doesn’t represent the same sort of inherent challenge that other properties might. In Star Wars, there’s a multitude of aliens seen in the background, all with their own particular stories. Spellsinger doesn’t really have the same requirement of depth.
Whuf. That was a lengthy preamble.
Favorite Media That Should Be An RPG
When I sat down to consider this topic entry, there were two properties that came to mind immediately. Both of them are videogames that I’ve dedicated an unseemly amount of time to and that have broader and deeper worlds that they exist within. They both work on very particular worldsets, with distinct themes and ideals, and the play within these worlds would feel very distinct.
The first one is Borderlands and its attendant sequels. These games are fairly straightforward, run and gun shooters with light RPG elements and a Diablo-styled random weapon generator. The Sirens have a complex history and lore that melds nicely to pen & paper role-playing, and any game that encourages a robust combat system that involves tactics, positioning and what amounts to being animal companions would make an easy transition to the tabletop. While the game is set entirely on Pandora and its surrounding environs, there are enough references to the greater surrounding universe to ground a series of sourcebooks and supplemental material.
What’s interesting is that the crew at Gearbox are a known quantity of RPG geeks, evidenced as much by the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC as anything else. Why this game hasn’t been auctioned off to an RPG developer is actually a little beyond me.
That said, Gearbox is headquartered in Austin, TX, home of Steve Jackson Games, so I guess we’re lucky that it hasn’t ended up as a GURPS splatbook.
The other property is Dishonored, the weirdly beautiful and discordant stealth game. The rich and intricate city of Dunwall hints at the larger world around the insular Empire, even as it turns the focus inward. The complex moral aspects of the main characters, the interference of the Outsider, and the eldritch happenings that underlie the setting all make for rich detail that could be brought forth in the hands of an invested game company.
That said, this is a property owned by Bethesda, whose D&D influences are well documented, even as they have never licensed anything from Elder Scrolls for tabletop. It’s hard to say whether a Dishonored RPG is even possible.