CREATING YOUR FAVORITE RPG
PART FOUR: PLAYING THE GAME
The final step in this process is of course, playing the game. Once you've chosen a game system, and modified as much or as little as you feel necessary, it's time to put all this work to use. When preparing to play, there are a few things you'll need to consider. You need to make sure the players are all familiar with the series, or basis of the game, you need to have characters created either for or by the players, and you need adventures.
GETTING THE PLAYERS FAMILIAR WITH THE SOURCE
This is hopefully, a very easy step in the process, as it is likely that most of your players will be familiar with the series you're basing the game on. If this is not the case, you need to familiarize them with the series, hopefully in a way that gets them as interested in it as you are. If you are using a television series, the easiest way to do this is to watch video tapes of the episodes which you think best represent what the series is about. If the game is based on a book, lend them the book, assuming you own a copy. If not, borrow it from the library or from a friend if possible. If the game is based on a movie, rent the movie if possible, along with the players.
If any of these methods proves to be impossible or difficult, you can write up a description of the series from your notes, or you can simply describe it to them as best as you can. This latter method is one that works well if you plan to run this game at a convention, or for a new group of players. If possible, you may be able to find magazine articles or other related types of information, such as trading cards, music soundtracks, or even calendars. Also, many popular television series and movies have all sorts of books and novelties published about them. Try to find some of these to help explain or describe the series to your players.
The next step is character creation. Depending on the style of game you plan to run, you will either need the characters from the series, pre-generated original characters, or a system that allows the players to create their own characters. If you are Playing the Series, you should have game statistics for all the central characters in the series prepared ahead of time. If your game is to be Inspired by the Series, you can either generate a set of characters yourself, or allow the players to do so themselves. If you allow the players to create their own characters, is it important that they understand the types of characters that are appropriate to the series.
Adventure design is something all gamemasters do for all their games they run, so the basics of this task are not going to be addressed here. Instead, let's take a look at some of the ideas to consider when creating adventures and stories based on your series.
Creating Appropriate Plots
Careful observation of the plots of episodes of your series will reveal the types of plots that work best within the setting of the series and with its characters. This is very important when designing adventures, for very often it is the plot, more so than the setting and characters that determines if an adventure is true to its inspiration.
For instance, if your series has been on for a number of years, there has most likely been an episode or two which did not 'feel' right to you. That is, something about them was not quite consistent with the series as you know it. If and when this happens, it is most often due to a faulty plot, or at least, ill-conceived events within the plot. This same inconsistency can also occur with inappropriate actions or dialogue from the characters, or an inconsistent description of the setting, but most often a faulty plot is to blame. It is for this reason that you should take care when observing the plots of your series. Even if you get the characters and setting just right, a poor plot can cause a story to feel wrong to the participants.
Adventure Creation Formula
One way to create adventures that are appropriate to the series is to design a system or formula for their design based on common plot elements from the series. One way to create this type of system is to analyze the plots of four or five of your favorite episodes, noting what types of events happen, and how those events progress through the story. If the series has any specific types of events that commonly occur, make a note of it. Once you have a system in place, test the system by creating a few of the original stories from the series, with your system. Don't be discouraged if you have difficulty at first. Many stories which work well in the context of a series do not translate so well to a roleplaying game.
Using Techniques and Trappings
The Techniques and Trappings of your series can be a very important tool in the creation of adventures and stories based on the series. It is these things which describe how the stories are told, and what those stories are about. This includes capturing the mood and atmosphere of the series, as well as any common themes that are important to the series. These are important ideas to keep in mind when designing adventures.
When designing adventures, refer to your notes regarding Techniques and Trappings to make sure they remain faithful to the series. It is very often a series' Techniques and Trappings that make it so interesting, whether these be the nature of the stories, such as the investigation of the paranormal on The X Files, or the cool vehicles on the Thunderbirds, or the theme of the struggle between society and the individual on The Prisoner. A series' Techniques and Trappings are what you should try to capture in your game, and the best way to do this is to include use them as a guide when creating adventures.
EPISODIC OR CAMPAIGN PLAY
Something else to consider is whether you plan to run the game as an extended campaign, or as a series of episodes. The difference has most to do character development and advancement, but can also impact the types of adventures you design for the game. Episodic games tend to be made up of a series of independent stories, with little connection from episode to episode beyond a consistent setting and characters. Campaign games tend to be made up of series of stories that have some sort of connection, either based on opposing characters, or subplots that run through a number of separate adventures.
An episodic game is better suited when you are Playing the Series, as the characters will remain relatively the same throughout most of the game, with little in terms of skill advancement or growth.
A campaign game is well suited for a game that is Inspired by the Series, as this type of game can continue in its own direction, without having to remain strictly true to the series. Also, since the players most often have their own characters in this style of game, those character can change and grow over time. This means you will have to design some sort of experience system that allows the characters to develop their skills and abilities.
There are any number of possible challenges associated with running a game based on a series. These are not meant to discourage you, but instead to advise you on potential situations that may arise. First, it is possible that the series you thought would be so cool as a roleplaying game simply isn't. Despite your best efforts, it is possible that what makes the series so unique and interesting (to you) simply doesn't translate well into a game. Secondly, you may find that your players don't find the series as interesting as you did, or perhaps they may have difficulty getting into the spirit of the series. Many series that I think would make a fun basis for a roleplaying game require that the participants embrace the premise of the series, accepting its inherent assumptions and possible flaws.
The style of play you choose can also lead to problems. For instance, if your game is Inspired by the Series, you may have difficulty in getting the players to create appropriate characters. If you are Playing the Series, a very likely challenge is the number of characters versus the number of players. Below is a solution to this type of problem.
The Character Pool
The Character Pool allows a relatively small group of players to play a large group of characters, and also provides a framework that allows players to switch between characters between adventure. Note that the Character Pool is not suggested for new, relatively inexperienced players.
The central idea of the Character Pool is that the whole group of players works together to portray the entire cast of characters. Using this method, each player agrees to roleplay a number of characters, anywhere from 2 to 4, as required by the series. The exact number of characters each player plays will depend on the number of characters in the series and the number of players. Most often, this works best if each of the players has one main character, who will be involved in the majority of the story, while the secondary characters are played only in scenes in which the secondary characters are important.
As an example, suppose you were playing a game based on seaQuest DSV. There are 11 characters on the series, including Darwin the dolphin. A group this large would be very difficult to run smoothly, especially while trying to maintain the interest of all the players throughout the game. Now, let's suppose you have a group of 5 players for your seaQuest DSV adventure. Each of these players could be responsible for 2 characters (excluding out Darwin, who would probably work out well as an gamemaster character anyway). When assigning characters to each of the players, split the characters up, so that each has a main character and a secondary character. For instance, the adventure you plan to run focuses on five of the characters, namely Captain Bridger, Dr. Wendy Smith, Ensign Henderson, Lt. Brody, and seaman Tony Piccolo. Each of the players should get to roleplay one of these five, as well as one of the other five characters, Lucas Wolenczak, Lt. O'Neill, Commander Ford, Dagwood, and Lt. Ortiz. During the adventure, the players switch between their main character and secondary character, depending on the story. For instance, suppose one of the players is playing both Dr. Smith and Lt. O'Neill. When a message comes from U.E.O. headquarters, this player would play Lt. O'Neill, while later on, when Dr. Smith was needed in the story, the player would switch to playing Dr. Smith. Each of the players would switch back and forth like this as the story progresses.
Another way to use the Character Pool is to have the players change characters between adventures. For instance, the player described above, who played Dr. Smith and Lt. O'Neill, might play Captain Bridger and Tony Piccolo in the next adventure, and Commander Ford and Lt. Ortiz in the next. This allows all the players to eventually play all the characters, and also helps to keep things fresh for both the players and the gamemaster.
At the beginning of this article, its purpose was 'to offer guidelines for taking a source, be it a television show or series, a movie, or book, and using it as the basis for a roleplaying game.
I like to think that I've achieved that purpose, and that the information in this article is useful to you both as a way for you to develop a game based on your favorite TV series or movie, and as a new way of looking at roleplaying games that you hadn't before considered.
I'm anxious to get your feedback on the ideas in this article, as well as any criticisms or comments. You can email to me, Lou Prosperi, at LJP1963@aol.com. Thanks.
Copyright ©1996 Louis J. Prosperi
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