Books and the systems that game them

edited September 2007 in The Best of Story Games
Over here we've been having a grand old time discussing books that we'd like to see made into games. Then MikeRM asked me a troubling question "what is it about these books that I want to see in games but can't given the currently available games?" I had to realize that my post was primarily just geeking out about great stories that I'd like to play. I hadn't really been thinking about whether or not existing games were up to the task. So I'm throwing it out to everyone who enjoyed that thread. Are the existing games sufficient to do your favorites justice? If so, which ones and why? If not, why not? Do you have to tweak anything to make it work or add anything to the existing game to really get what you're looking for? Is it just setting and color you need or is it a system question?

I'm formulating my own thinking about the books I listed and will post as soon as its baked a little. Thanks Mike for a cool addition to the thread.
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Comments

  • I was going to say that Dune has nothing that really evokes the feeling I'm looking for. Then I thought about what it was that I wanted out of Dune.

    The political intrigue. The sense of vastness. The exploration of cultures, through individuals that happen to manage their way into your life. The epic scope. The wits and dashing bravado of the Atreides. The perverse and self-serving arrogance of the Harkonnen.

    And then it hit me: Burning Wheel. Duh.

    Changes that need to be made:

    *Lifepaths be Setting and House specific, rather than Race (and Setting within that) specific.
    *There needs to be a way to escalate Duels of Wits to a wider scale, during a Duel of Wits. Be able to say "okay, this seems like it should reach planetary level now."
    *Shields need to be worked in, in a major way - not just as "armour". It needs to be designed into the system.
    *Characters need to have some kind of Destiny, which functions like Beliefs sort of
  • Joe, have you looked at Burning Wheel: Jihad? If so, any thoughts? Jihad is essentially Dune with the serial numbers filed off lightly (or so I've heard. I haven't gotten my mitts on a copy yet).
  • No, I haven't. But now I think I probably should.
  • Burning Sands: Jihad

    I think hardcopies are available too.
  • edited September 2007
    Yeah, when I started listing off manga, most of it was, "I want to play a game about these people and their issues".

    And in each and every single case, the solution was "Use PTA". PTA is Narrativist GURPS.

    -Andy
  • I'm a bit puzzled by the way everyone keeps mentioned "Declare" (I agree, it's great) and then not saying "Cold City".

    But I've only looked at CC briefly. During which time it struck me as Declare: the RPG. Am I missing something?
  • Cold City isn't a perfect fit for Declare. CC is tightly focused, it's all about technology and the consequences of technology, while Declare ... isn't. You can view both through the lens of alt-cold-war-narrative but it isn't a 1:1 map in my opinion.
  • edited September 2007
    I didn't want to rain on that other thread but... while the urge to play in established universes is strong, and we think that it would be a blast... it's just usually not good.

    I could go on about why I feel this way, and I have elsewhere. But the core of the problem is that you can't go back home again. By reading the book (or seeing Star Wars), you've already had that setting "play out" for you. You can't do better than the experience in the other media, in part becuase the world created for that other media was not generated for you to play characters within it that are central to the story. That's already been done by other characters.

    Dune is classic this way. When do you play? The interesting scenario that the setting sets up has already been played out.

    What you need for good play is, essentially, a blank slate in terms of story. Imagine if you had a universe like that of Dune, and it was set up with you playing Paul and buddies... but Dune had never been written? Well that would be a great situation to play through. But, it having already been written, what's left to play?

    I say all of this having played a ton of Rolemaster in Middle Earth. It's not just that the system was terrible for the game (it is, but that's not the only problem). It's that I always felt like the story-goodness had already been used up by Tolkien. I was an interloper in his realm, at best living below the level of his stories, and at worst, sullying them with our additions.

    Not everyone will feel like I do. But I, too, went in thinking that it would be a great idea to play in the settings that I most loved to read or see in movies. And every time the same thing happened. That sense of potential did not pan out.

    Wheras if I play in a setting designed for an RPG, almost all such designers do not make the mistake of sucking up the story. The world is presented as being on the cusp of something happening, but we don't know what. And it's up to you and the players to figure out that story.

    So... just consider for a moment that this urge to play in established settings may not be a well-considered one, in all cases. Especially in a setting where there are world-changing events caused by the characters in the fiction, you may well find, as I have, that play is flat and lifeless.

    This is why Jihad works, in my opinion. It's NOT Dune. It sets up situations and elements that are "Dunesque" perhaps, and that's all good. But it doesn't try to actually reside in Dune. Just as Burning Wheel doesn't actually try to reside in Middle Earth, despite it being a complete homage to that realm.

    Just sayin'
    Mike
  • There's a lot of 'good' in what you're saying.

    OTOH, I can think of plenty of fiction worlds were the 'future' is not played out. Where things could get even more interesting if you continue the story. Or where playing the fiction (past) with different variables is interesting.
  • Posted By: joepubI was going to say that Dune has nothing that really evokes the feeling I'm looking for. Then I thought about what it was that I wanted out of Dune.
    What I love about Dune is the feeling you get at the start of the novel where the Atreides are making a fresh start with a set pool of resources and a desperate situation to develop into. The same feeling could come from the advisors of Queen Elizabeth at the start of her reign, or maybe the early years of the Rebel alliance.

    There are a few new games capable of delivering this, I think. Burning Wheel has circles and resources, which are very useful for this kind of situation. Jihad and Burning Empires add some campaign level stakes to the game. I've heard that Reign might give me what I want too, but I haven't read it yet.
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesYou can't do better than the experience in the other media, in part becuase the world created for that other media was not generated for you to play characters within it that are central to the story. That's already been done by other characters.
    I think you're mostly correct. And this is why I've never liked the idea of playing an RPG set in MIddle Earth. And certainly not during the time of the war of the Ring. It would be absurd, unless you were specifically desiring a game about the "little people" caught up in that mess... which actually could possibly be pretty interesting. An "Orc's Eye View" of the war. Hmmm...
    But anyway, the books I mentioned on the other thread (China Mieville's Bas-Lag novels) don't really have that kind of feeling for me. Big shit is happening, but no one really notices and the world isn't changed all that much. At the end of Perdido Street Station, New Crobuzon is pretty much the same as it always was. Those stories are the kind where the big players overshadow everything, except perhaps in their own little circles. But when it comes down to it anyway, more than I actually want to play IN New Crobuzon, what I really want is to play a game that creates a story that FEELS like those stories feel. And that is a task that I think is both easier and more difficult than just playing a game in a certain setting.
  • Posted By: Jason Morningstarit's all about technology and the consequences of technology,
    OK, thanks. I hadn't really zoomed in on that yet.

    Mike, I agree with much of what you say. Though if Pendragon can do it, surely it can't be all bad?

    I still think that the Culture novels would be good, though. There's not the giant meta-plot on the whole, just an interesting universe with lots of different examples of the kinds of stories that could play out. Similarly with Lovecraft: lots of little stories build up to present an interesting setting with lots of room for manoeuvre. Not to mention fertile unconsistencies and omissions, something many game designers wouldn't think to include. Maybe the moral is to look at story collections, rather than epic series?
  • Are the existing games sufficient to do your favorites justice? If so, which ones and why? If not, why not? Do you have to tweak anything to make it work or add anything to the existing game to really get what you're looking for? Is it just setting and color you need or is it a system question?

    There are about six games I could name that I have heard of but apparently didn't get finished that satisfy some important fictional needs in an insightful, systematic way.

    The problem with "game this book" is that, like, I think you need the celebratory fascination tempered by analytic presence, and you need a designer to be your analytic presence, because that's not what I want to do at the table, and the problem with most games is that they are analysing stuff I don't care about.

  • PTA is not narrativist, or every game is. There is no requirement or support for making moral statements in PTA, zero, nothing.

    However, you are correct, it is a great engine for story-gaming with established literary settings.
  • edited September 2007
    One of the things I like about the stories I like is that they are in quirky settings that arise from a "what-if", and they explore that "what-if" by the reactions of people who have people problems (family, relationships, politics, war) in the context of it.

    Which is as much as to say "I like speculative fiction", but that's why I like it and what kind of it I like.

    This is what I get out of gaming in an established setting: what else can you do with the "what-if"?

    I think Amber is a pretty good counter-example to Mike's points (which isn't to say that he's totally wrong - he isn't - only that there's another side to the story). People have been gaming Amber for years, even working round the great universe-changing cosmic events of the canon; those events become creative constraints (though I think a lot of Amber games start out with "only X books are canon, we're starting from that point"). It probably helps that Amber as a series was never actually finished, it just stopped.

    Going back to the question of the thread, I have to admit that the main reason I'm developing the Pentasystem as I am is so that it will support the kinds of stories I like: stories that depict people trying to change the world because of things they care about, while dealing with their own issues, having to suffer and sacrifice in order to do so, and ending up changed by the experience. With plenty of scope for quirky weird stuff that isn't what the story is actually about, but adds a ton of flavour and without which the story wouldn't be quite the same (or might not occur at all). My design goals are specifically and explicitly to support creating that kind of story, and if I can play games that feel like Lois McMaster Bujold, Jim Butcher, Sherri Tepper, Julian May, maybe even Terry Pratchett, I'll know I've succeeded.

    Why can't I do this with PTA, TSOY, FATE, FLFS or Dogs? [EDIT: or Shock?] Well, I probably could, kind of, but then, I can open a can of paint with a claw hammer, too. I want to build a tool (which steals unashamedly the most applicable bits from all those games) which is designed to support "my kind of story", from the ground up.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPTA is not narrativist, or every game is. There is no requirement or support for making moral statements in PTA, zero, nothing.

    However, you are correct, it is a great engine for story-gaming with established literary settings.
    Wow, this is going to derail the thread fiercely, but is making a moral statement mandatory for narrativist play?
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: noclue
    Wow, this is going to derail the thread fiercely, but is making a moral statement mandatory for narrativist play?
    Oh dear... Before this gets out of hand I'm going to quote from the Glossary over at The Forge:

    Narrativism (Narrativist play)
    One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. See Story Now.

    Story Now
    Commitment to Addressing (producing, heightening, and resolving) Premise through play itself. The epiphenomenal outcome for the Transcript from such play is almost always a story. One of the three currently-recognized Creative Agendas. As a top priority of role-playing, the defining feature of Narrativist play.

    Premise (adapted from Egri)
    A generalizable, problematic aspect of human interactions. Early in the process of creating or experiencing a story, a Premise is best understood as a proposition or perhaps an ideological challenge to the world represented by the protagonist's passions. Later in the process, resolving the conflicts of the story transforms Premise into a theme - a judgmental statement about how to act, behave, or believe. In role-playing, "protagonist" typically indicates a character mainly controlled by one person. A defining feature of Story Now.

    Hope this helps.

    Jesse

    Edited Note: In my experience PtA Character Issue in action = Premise. Therefore PtA is a Narrativist game by default as players are expected to address their Character's Issue over the course of the game
  • I don't agree. It's perfectly possible under the PTA rules with no changing to only address the characters' Issues in a simulative way - in other words, "how would a TV show operating under these constraints and with this situation presented have this character address this issue in this way" or "how would this character resolve this situation and how can I describe it so it sounds badass and would make a great TV show". The latter in fact is more supported, by the fan mail mechanic. Narrativism is entirely and only about moral judgments and statments made by the players. There is no requirement in PTA for a player to make any such judgment or statement. You can play it in the same way you play GURPS or D&D and I suspect many or most do, and I have observed it many times.

    In other words, and to get this back on course a little, simulating a dramatic piece of literature in which a moral dilemma happens to appear is not narrativism unless the players make and express a moral judgment. Not the characters, the designer, the game, the genre, the format or the situation. Because a lot of genres require some degree of moral dilemmas (sometimes very strictly confined sorts, sometimes with very strictly defined resolutions), this can get foggy unless you keep very careful track of whether the player is making a moral judgment and statement, or just resolving a situation in the fiction.

    In a Gulliver's Travels-esque game, for example, there would be many ways to react as players to the allegories for the absurdities of political and social life:

    1 - The player could just have the character react as that character would react in those situations. Not narrativism: no moral statement.

    2 - The player could have the character "play along" with the allegory, feeding into the absurdity but also incorporating their character into it. Not narrativism: the character and even the narration may be making a moral statement, but it's just at the level of the genre, "in the game world", so to speak.

    3 - The player could have the character "play along" with the allegory but make it clear from their narration and description that the character is not fully aware of the allegory and in fact makes dreadful mistakes or apologizes for brilliant maneuvers, thinking they're mistakes. Narrativism: the player has made a moral statement about the allegory and the underlying reality through play of the character.

    This is why I don't think narrativist games are necessary for "playing" most of great literature. (This is also why I don't think GNS is worth much.)
  • Um....Can I make a stealth roll and sneak out the back?
  • Save vs GNS Flamewar!
  • I'd take the time to disagree with you, JD, except that it's really off topic for this thread. But I will agree with you that narrativism isn't required for "playing" literature, as you put it. Nobody ever said it was. It's not "story" for a reason (we all shot Ron down when he tried to claim it was), it's "Story Now."

    I think that Pendragon doesn't "do" the Arthur thing. It specifically gives you something else to do... be a more lowly knight in the setting working his way up. Even then I'm not convinced that it works well. Playing the "little people" as proposed above is what Ron has called "Underbelly Play." And while it's viable, I think, I don't see why there's any compelling reason to use the particular backdrop if you're going to do underbelly play... what do you gain over using any other setting? My point being that these settings exist and were created to facilitate the stories of the characters created.

    The fact of the nature of the existence of Middle Earth as a linguistics excercise notwithstanding. Yes, Tolkien invented the elvish first, and then created a world to put it in. But he did so because he believed that a realistic language cannot exist without a mythic underpinning which explains the evolution of the language (and we'd be fools to defy the professor). As such, Middle Earth exists only insamuch as it supports the myths that create the language, and a lot of it is left undefined. In other words, if you're not playing those myths out, the set up isn't really all that useful for you.

    But all that said, I agree with the more general point that some books are more suitable than others. I think to the extent that a world is used for episodic stuff, as opposed to epic, the more likely it is to be useful. For instance I think that Hyperborea, as presented to use as somewhat of a travellogue in the Conan books makes a relatively fine place to play. Which is because many of Conan's stories are about simply visiting places, not altering them. Don't get me wrong, playing King of Aquilonia is all used up. But there are many places that are just places where you could have play occur without worrying about having to trample over the Conan themes (or simply repeat them, which is even less interesting).

    But in this case, there's actually so little material involved that it's pretty much as easy to make up your own setting.

    Here's the key: the settings that are created in books and media are done so to support the author's needs in terms of creating situations for the characters. Which he then proceeds to use up. The Star Wars universe is so obviously this way: Lucas creates whatever he needs the moment he needs it. The universe exists solely to enable the telling of the Skywalker Saga. It sets up a situation of a burgeoning palace revolution and subsequent rebellion. This situation then gets "played out" in the movies.

    The only thing "left over" from this process are the creative trappings of the setting... what the aliens look like. But... what does Greedo's home culture look like? Are there other Hutts? Or is Jabba just some sort of mutant? Is Hutt a race? Or a position? OK, I think that one of the movies made after Jedi does actually have more of Jabba's species, which I think we're to assume are also called Hutts? But that's odd. Why is Han not, then, Han the Human? Are they rare?

    Oh, now somebody will come on and assure me that there's secondary literature in which all of this is explained well, and in which we find out that Chewbacca is female, and what her home culture is like. Know what? I've never read that. And, as such, it's not even slightly compelling to me.

    Moreover, there's no situation in Star Wars that is presented that needs playing out. Sure, I as GM can make one up. But making up the trappings is pretty fun... and learning about them. After all we didn't all go to Star Wars knowing what he aliens would look like. Why should we want to play in a world just because we already know what the aliens will look like? Why not be surprised instead?

    Why not create those trappings the same way that Lucas does (I find it to be a fun act)? And if you have to come up with a situation yourself for the players to deal with, then what are you getting from the setting in the book?

    Baggage. That's all you get, from what I've seen of such play. The negatives, to me, seem to either balance out, or even outweigh the small positives. The perception that it's going to be very fun to play in these settings is proved wrong after the first couple of sessions. "Look, there's one of those Greedo-guys! Cool! Let's go shoot him like Han did!"

    I'd really rather just play in a setting that starts with the notion of existing primarily to support the action that's going on around the characters.

    Let's put it this way: my actual play in settings from books has blown chunks. Can somebody give me an example of play from a setting from a book that was good... because the setting was from the book? As opposed to being good because the GM or system came up with a way to work around the fact that the setting had been all used up?

    For example, in Amber... how do you deal with the existence of the canon Amberites? I know there are actually several solutions to this. But all of them seem to come down to not being able to either actually use the setting as it was written, or having to play "underbelly" which means not getting the support of the setting to play the sorts of themes for which the setting was created.

    When I hear reports of people having fun in these settings, they always smack of them having fun *despite* the setting, not because of it. What's fun about Amber is not the details of the setting, I'd argue, but the basic premise of playing godlike beings. Nobilis, anyone? Why play in the Amber universe, when you can play in the virgin territory of the Nobilis universe? Does "the Pattern" make playing in Amber somehow compelling?

    Well, obviously not for me.

    Mike
  • That's funny...when I hear reports of people having fun in these settings, they always smack of them having fun. Period, full stop.

    In other words, if you think most (if not all) people playing in an established setting are having fun *despite* the setting, that's probably just a little bit of projection on your part. You think that playing with things you made up totally on the fly is more fun than playing with things that were made up in advance, or that a "generic" setting is more fun and useful than one based on a series of books or movies? Well, that's totally fine...but ultimately that's just your preference, and not anything more wide-reaching, significant, or interesting than that. You can keep your preference and still accept that there are other people who prefer different things.

    Other people get their kicks from being creative within established boundaries. Still others get off on "out-Ambering-Amber." Some (and here's where my own personal preferences make me wonder what the hell is wrong with these people) even like playing characters from the source material, or playing PCs who interact with the characters from the source material. Strange but true! (Personally, that's something that I find totally unappealing, but I won't pretend that other groups aren't out there playing with Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker or Corwin running around in their game. They're welcome to their fun, even if I would rather jam a spork in my eyes than do it in one of our games.)

    There's a lot more going on with what people get from using a particular work's setting over another than just baggage and material that's been "used up." There's probably even more going on with it than just saving the time and effort of creating details for the setting, or making it easier for a gaming group to arrive at a consensus for what the setting is like, or even playing directly into the daydreamy "wouldn't it be cool if?" relationship a lot of people have with their favorite literature/movie/videogame/whatever. I wouldn't even try to sit down and work out all the reasons why groups favor one setting over another, because I don't think I'd ever come up with a complete list; it's a better use of my time to look at the settings my group likes, and use that to guesstimate what other settings will resonate with us.
  • edited September 2007
    Accouting (do you have a name, BTW?)

    You could be right. Could just be me.

    This is why I asked people to give me actual examples. I'm very willing to be proved wrong. So far you seem to be on my side as skeptical, but willing to take people's possibly unanalyzed reports at face value. OK, fine, but let's see if we can get any data (annecdotal is fine here, because it'll form a base for discussion).

    Mike
  • Posted By: JDCorleyPTA is not narrativist, or every game is. There is no requirement or support for making moral statements in PTA, zero, nothing.
    Sorry about the derail, that was kinda my fault.

    Basically, it's kind of an inside joke on how PTA has become the "Generic Universal Theme-Playing System" for many of us (me included). Want to run time-travelling zombie hunters who are dealing with being gay, rich or unloved? PTA!
    Want to run a gritty crime-drama with issues of race? PTA!

    "Want to run a space pirates game?"
    "Savage Wor..."
    "Where the pirate captain is in love with the first mate?"
    "...Savage Wor..."
    "And the first mate is sisters with a captain of the Fleet?"
    "... ...hmmm. I still think you could do it with Sava...."
    "And that fleet captain is an antagonist of the other two, and at the same time spends a lot of time worrying about not being a good father?"
    "Fuck it. PTA."

    I get a kick out of comparing PTA to GURPS, but for me that's what it is: My hippie go-to system.
  • edited September 2007
    I have no issue with its breadth. It's badassedly generic. :)

    And Mike, have you ever written or do you enjoy fanfic? Do you understand the urge that impels it to be made? It is the same for many people with established settings.
  • edited September 2007
    JD, I understand the urge. I've had the urge. I've played this way because of that urge. I'm a Tolkien fanatic (when I was a kid I wrote an homage). I'm reading the Silmarillion to my 6 year old son right now. I so wanted to do... well whatever it was that I thought we were going to do when we played in Middle Earth.

    Then we started playing. And it was teh suck. No matter how much I thought it was going to be cool to do, it was not. Whatever had compelled us to play in Middle Earth died in the middle of the first session of play.

    I completely understand why people feel compelled to do this, and why this thread exists. I'm just saying that I don't think that the results of such play ever match what people instinctively feel that they'll get out of this sort of play.

    Those little red berries... they look good to eat. But they're poisonous.

    Mike
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesKnow what? I've never read that. And, as such, it's not even slightly compelling to me.
    I'm confused by this statement. You're saying you only find things that you've experienced directly and personally compelling?
  • OK Mike I'll bite mainly because in my game experience all of my Amber games have rocked and all of my Nobilis games have sunk like lead weights.

    If I am understanding you right, your position is that people wanting to game in an established fantasy world do so because they wish to experience an adventure as compelling as the story they just read in it and that doing so is difficult/impossible because the setting is constructed to support that written story and not the one you are trying to tell. Thus you must create new elements for your new story and if you are going to bother creating new elements then why not start from scratch so that you don’t have the constraints of the old story on your creativity?

    Is that an accurate recounting of your position? And is your question basically what do we that choose to play in established worlds feel we are getting from them as positive elements for role-play?

    If I’ve understood, I’ll share my game experiences and see if I can address your curiosity.
  • My group had fun, using Mortal Coil, in a Star Wars game. Coz the opening crawl read 'It is 40,000 years before the Battle of Endor...'

    And with the best will in the world, we still had small quibbles over species, lightsaber colors and physics (ffs!) that didn't genuinely help the game an ounce.
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesI'm just saying that I don't think that the results of such play ever match what people instinctively feel that they'll get out of this sort of play.
    Oh, well, I have no instincts at all, being an unfeeling monster - but my expectations ("hey, this is a pretty interesting world, I wonder what I could do with it") have almost always been met. I am typically not trying to replicate anything's "feel", since, as above, I don't feel anything, what I am doing is taking the pieces of others works and assembling them to my own ends, like an artist (musical, visual) uses pre-existing material, sometimes sparingly, sometimes expansively, sometimes to poke fun at the original material, or make a point about it, or sometimes just to celebrate it.

    Also, there's plenty of novels and stories that follow formula so pleasantly that if you get the formula and the trappings, you have the literature. Hardboiled mystery novels, men's action, historical romance...if I write a Sherlock Holmes story, I can do it absolutely by the numbers, enjoy it greatly, and if I'm skillful, Holmes fans will like it too, not as a deconstruction, but as the actual thing itself. There have been Holmes stories after Doyle that I thought were actually more "genuinely" Holmes than some of Doyle's!

    I agree that nobody can replicate a story just by replicating a setting. Doyle didn't create a London full of bizarre mastermind criminals and wacked-out conspiracies just for fun, he did it so that Holmes and Watson could solve crimes, and not just any crimes, these particular crimes, and not just these particular crimes any old way, he made it so they would solve these particular crimes these particular ways. But that doesn't mean the characters, conspiracies, conceits, and even the physical trappings (violin, pipe, magnifying glass, dressing gown) don't have any emotional cachet (for those of you that have emotions) or meaning independent of the plot.

    I mean, when Michael Chabon writes a Holmes story with the Holocaust in it, you know you are looking at some awesome shit and real literary hoohah.
  • edited September 2007
    I wonder how much the completest instinct conflicts with the ability to enjoy a setting. I have had absolutely fantastic Amber games that have drawn directly from the canon, and I know of many others who have as well. Most often, when doing so, they are answering some question that the books themselves did not, but it varies. I've also had some fantastic games that used amber as a starting point and went someplace crazy with it. The rub is that I still consider those Amber game, whereas a purist, or someone who demands the text be reference, not a starting point, would probably not. So it goes, but it points to something else - Zelazny is easier to play with than Tolkein, because Tolkein 's work is pretty well filled out (as are some classic settings, like Dune). Zelazny's worlds are full of holes and interesting characters, and are just damn short. That makes it a lot easier to bend them without breaking them, so to speak. I mention this because my overall success rate with settings correlates more with how their presented than their source. I work better with bones than with a full body of work, simple as that.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I think that the game that will shake the gaming worl dto its bones will be based on Dianne Gabaldon's Outlander series, but I am not entirely sure how to systemize it in a way to do it justice. I mean, any generic engine could work, but I can't see one as a better than 80% match, with the last 20% being what I want to see.

    -Rob D.

    PS - For those unaware, they're a series of romance novels. They're also full of pirates, time travel, black powder, swordfights and dialog that feels like the banter that Eddings was shooting for. They _are_ a game, just not one that exists.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Mike HolmesLet's put it this way: my actual play in settings from books has blown chunks. Can somebody give me an example of play from a setting from a book that was good... because the setting was from the book? As opposed to being good because the GM or system came up with a way to work around the fact that the setting had been all used up?
    That last bit is actually what I meant by "gamifying" a book. You can't play Frodo and the Quest; Tolkien already did that. But its setting is deep and rich and evocative. There's narrative gold there that Tolkien just left out there. Noble's Middle Earth games come to mind as fantastic use of the world Tolkien created, but he had to work at the setting and make it his. He set it a couple thousand years before the Ring story and said Go! That does away with all the canon and allows new things to happen, and the things that happen are made better because the players know what "should" have happened. Paul Tevis mentioned killing smaug 1700 years before he meets Bilbo. My Tolkien-fu isn't good enough, but someone with a black belt in hobbit could have fun rolling the ages forward with Smaug dead and see how that changes the history. For one thing, I know the Dwarves aren't driven from the Misty Mountains by a big flamey dragon. What does that do to the world? To me that's gamifying Tolkien.

    Steerpike runs a great trilogy of Star Wars games using SOTC. Again they're set in the years when the rebel alliance is just forming (after the clone wars I think, but the Force has never been strong with me). He breaks open the canon in places where it interferes with fun like we were all Jedi's because without Jedi's there's no lightsaber battles and "lightsaber battles are awesome!" Plus, we completely ignored Episode ick! Ickier! and Ickiest! There's Sith all over the place wielding ancient glowing red sabers and there's lots of swash buckling goodness. The dark force tempts. The good fall or persevere. That's gamified Lucas!
  • Thanks for the comments all. One at a time...

    Brian, I'm saying that if I'm feeling the urge to play in the Star Wars universe, it's because of the movies I've seen. Not because I'm vaguely aware that there are all sorts of other Star Wars novels and such that are out there that make the universe larger. How do I know if they make the universe better or worse, if I haven't read them? I suspect, in fact, that they make the universe worse. But whether or not that's true, it's not this material that's making me want to play in the Star Wars universe.

    Rich, that's a very accurate restatement. Go for it. I will say, however, that Nobilis does have a crap system, and that it wouldn't surprise me if that's the cause for the game sinking. The example is just to point out that it's not difficult to find replacement "settings" especially when that word here really means "What we do" less than "Where do we do it?" Same for Arthurian knights.

    Joe, James and JD, you all give examples of the setting having to be altered to have fun playing in the world chosen, using one of the two most common methods: changing the timeframe to before or after the time of the books in question. In point of fact, when I played in Middle Earth, we played in the classic "1600s" version. I have two replies to this:
    A) This was precisely my point. You're avoiding playing during the peak set-up, the one with the most support, because you understand implicitly that it would be no fun to play during that peak period, because it's been all used up situationally.

    B) Despite playing in 1600s ME, it didn't help. At one point we wandered on over to the Anduin vale, and started to hear rumors of somebody in Mirkwood known as the Necromancer. Now I'm not usually one to want for secrets in the game, but the fact that I knew this was Sauron, and nobody else in the world of ME at that time knew this, blew. In fact, in this case knowing this really messed up my play. Do we go in and try to destroy this evil despot? That's probably something my do-gooder Dunedain Ranger character would probably have done. But, then, I also know that this is Sauron, and that we'd have gotten our posteriors handed to us, because even at the time, he's still a maiar, and waaaaay more powerful than we are. But even worse than that... what if we succeed in some fashion? Then the history of Middle Earth is altered forever and in a massive way? We're going to re-write Tolkien for the better?

    I think not. I often felt like I was running over Tolkien's work.

    Heck, playing Star Wars 40,000 years prior to the movies? Is that Star Wars at all? They had lightsabres then? Who knew? And in any case, where's that compelling part? Rather, why not use some other universe? What are we getting out of saying it's Star Wars at that point? And if I have to break canon to get the lightsabres in, then, again, isn't the canon just causing work here?

    JD... the "real world" has the advantage that it can't get "used up." It's not a "setting" in terms of being something special with which to engage. It's not created for a specific situation, it contains all real situations. It can't be the draw for play alone. I completely agree with you that if you're playing Holmsian mysteries, that the trappings of such are the draw. I think a RPG that emulates Holmsian Mysteries is great. Again, I don't have a problem with a game like Burning Wheel where it's "Middle Earth" emulative (if you will). I have a problem playing in Middle Earth, the setting.

    In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I wouldn't even have a problem playing Sherlock Holmes himself... sounds like a fun game (I hope it's not a poison berry). But that's because Holmes was never "resolved" thematically. Yes, he dies (or, at least Doyle tried to kill him), but each episode has nothing to do with that eventual death. As such, many more fun episodes of Holmes can be written/played. Hercule Poirot is proof of that, I think.

    But that's, again, because each episode is it's own situation. You're not relying on "London" to provide the situation, you're having to create it each time yourself (the mystery in this case).

    Rob, I might be that completist. Somebody who doesn't think as much of Tolkien might not have my problem. But, then, they also have less compulsion to play in that setting and another should serve as well, I'd think. In any case, I'd stipulate to Amber being less problematic than Middle Earth or Dune, yeah. Because, like Holmes, it's less about the setting, really, and more about the sort of action going on. But, again, then why not use a different setting, and avoid the problems entirely?

    You might surmise this isn't the first time this subject has come up... I've done this thread once or twice before. Not seeing anything new here... yet. Keep it coming. We might yet prove me wrong. And then I get to play in Middle Earth again!

    Mike
  • Somebody who doesn't think as much of Tolkien might not have my problem. But, then, they also have less compulsion to play in that setting and another should serve as well, I'd think.

    I don't think this follows in all cases.

    Basically, Mike, I feel like in this post like all the rest of your posts in this thread you are describing your own thought processes and preferences, which is great, but you're also universalising them, which is kind of a sizeable error.

    We aren't all you.

  • Posted By: Mike HolmesBut, again, then why not use a different setting, and avoid the problems entirely?
    Well, it's worth noting that the Amber setting is, more than anything else, a collection of characters. Most of the compelling reinventions of the setting do not reframe the cosmology, they reframe the characters. And Zelazny knocked it out of the park in terms of creating well realized characters with only a few brush strokes, which allows their situation to be changed drastically while still keeping the character strongly recognizable. So long as part of the appeal of the settingis playing something that _relates_ to these characters, you have huge flexibility. Even in their absence, they impact the setting so long as you can see a chain between what you're doing and the character. That chain is part of what makes it, for example, so easy to move an Amber game forward or backwards in time.

    Now, all -that- said, Amber is a perfect storm of a setting. Almost purely character driven, hugely flexible in setting, and compact (90% of what you need is in the first book, which is _tiny_. The entirety of the first series is still smaller than a Wheel of Time book). It's also easy to point to concrete examples of its utility as a setting, if only through the sheer persistence of the community. I am constantly on the lookout for another setting that allows this same range of capabilities, and I still haven't found it. Most tellingly, what makes it work is probably not going to make Middle Earth work for you, simple as that.

    I dunno. It really feels like you think that respecting the original work is contradictory to taking strong ownership of it. And I see the thinking behind it, but it's not a perspective I share.

    -Rob D.
  • edited September 2007
    [Edited to account for cross-post with Rob]

    I'd agree, Shreyas, except that nobody has provided me with convincing evidence to the contrary.

    Truth be told, I'm actually expecting to get that proof soon. Somebody is going to be an exception to this rule, I'm quite sure. But my position isn't really to disuade everybody from ever trying to play in an estblished literature setting. I'm really just raising a flag that it may actually, for some people at least, be more trouble than it seems to be worth. That the promise of play may not be met by the actual play.

    Mike
  • Rob,

    It's like... if I'm attracted to play because of the beauty of what Tolkien has put together, then why would I want to muck it up? It's like a catch 22 for me. I want to play out LOTR, but I want it to be new when I do it. Which is, of course, impossible.

    I can, however, create something nearly as nifty (and much more personal to me) by making similar stories in other settings. Again, part of this is that it seems to me to be just as easy to get the same amount of enjoyment of the type of story from another setting. So the reason to play in that setting has to be really compelling to me.

    Mike
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Mike HolmesBut that's, again, because each episode is it's own situation. You're not relying on "London" to provide the situation, you're having to create it each time yourself (the mystery in this case).
    I think the identification of "new situation" in existing works is a big part of playing there. "Underbelly", which I have thought was interesting since I first read a short story set in Gotham City all about the tailor who sews the outfits for the Arkham villains (it's hard to find a green suit with question marks all over it, you know), is a subset of the "new situation" that we have to concoct no matter what we do. It's not the only game in town by any means.

    Some people have a very hard time coming up with a new situation for some works. They feel highly constrained by the existing works. It sounds like Middle Earth is that way for you. There was a very memorable rpg.net thread regarding playing in Narnia that springs to mind, a giant debate over whether you could not have Aslan appear and still be playing in Narnia.

    I've always felt that the moment you make new characters in a setting, you have changed it irrevocably and probably whoever came up with the setting would hate you forever if they found out what you had done with it, so I was never really concerned with fidelity to the source material. (The real question is why I assumed they would hate it and hate me rather than love it and love me. Probably because I was on Usenet a long time....anyway.)

    In other words, I am not that interested if, when I decide to have Aslan not appear, or be more Buddha-like instead of Christ-like, or a lamb instead of a lion, if I am still "playing in Narnia", I am interested in whether it is a good or compelling idea. So I guess I come at established settings from the opposite side that you do - I already assume I've dynamited it and there's nothing left but pieces when I start campaign design.

    That doesn't mean that sometimes I don't use a hell of a lot of the pieces! I've run Gotham City comics games that strictly paralleled comic book canon, incorporated tons of characters from the comics and integrated the PCs into as fully-realized a version of the setting as I possibly could. (Does it matter that Gotham City is the collective creation of many dozens of writers and artists over many decades? Hm!) I mean, I kept to that setting like a hawk chasing a rabbit. Still, I had to find a "new situation" for the players to play in. There's no question about that.

    Is this wishy washy enough? Let me know. Also I don't agree that you can treat the real world as distinct here. It's just another highly detailed setting that people know more or less about. The stories we find in history can be just as limited or just as open as fictional stories. But perhaps there is a difference that I'm just not seeing yet...

    It occurs to me that maybe a 'how I design a campaign from a highly detailed setting source' thread might be of use to people?
  • I've never really seen the difference between playing in canonical fictional world and playing in a purely historical context. I mean is stipulating that we're playing a WWII game and therefore you can't take our Hitler really that different from we're playing Star Wars and therefore you can't take out the Emperor?

    The one and only time I have ever played a Star Wars game I was running it at the request of someone. It took place between Episode III and Episode IV. There are still a few Jedi out there and Vader's out there in full hunting mode tracking them down. The PCs are a small rescue convoy traveling to a remote planet where one of the stranded Jedi is supposed to be, they've also learned that Vader has intercepted their communication and is enroute to the same destination. The key elements of the scenario are:

    A) A Stardestroyer has arrived in advance of Vader to prevent any incoming traffic to the planet.
    B) The Jedi in question has gone all Heart of Darkness and is training the natives who are strong in the dark side as a rebellion army.
    C) There are some gender politics among the natives that the Jedi is exploiting to his advantage.

    To me this was interesting and well worth playing out. At minimum the pure game question of can the PCs extract this guy before Vader shows up and kills everyone is an interesting question but then so is the central question of is this guy worth saving or his he too far gone also an interesting question. The context of Star Wars (like WWII or any other known historical setting) just adds depth and resonance to these elements.

    Does that make sense?

    Jesse
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesThanks for the comments all. One at a time...

    Heck, playing Star Wars 40,000 years prior to the movies? Is that Star Wars at all? They had lightsabres then? Who knew? And in any case, where's that compelling part? Rather, why not use some other universe? What are we getting out of saying it's Star Wars at that point? And if I have to break canon to get the lightsabres in, then, again, isn't the canon just causing work here?
    I am GMing now a game of Star Wars unfolding after 'Return of the Jedi'. Yes, it is definitely Star Wars. They have lightsabers. The compelling part is how many different visions of the Force we have from the canon characters of the first three movies (not counting the added confusion of the second three.) The game will test a few truths about the Force and the victory of the Republic. Perhaps Palpatine was right. Perhaps Luke was right. Perhaps Yoda was. Perhaps they were all wrong and that's why the Sith and Jedi have battled for 10,000 years trying to resolve a mistaken philosophy.

    I haven't read any of the 'expanded universe' Star Wars stuff and I have minimal SW-fu.
    Still, I hardly think the major points of SW are used up.
    I don't intend to bend canon to do it.

    Something like 18 people applied to play based on my premise blurb (which I can direct you to if you think it matters.)

    I'll look forward to other anecdotal comments----especially about Amber.
  • Has someone really not said the obvious yet? Isn't one of the main reasons to want to use a pre-established setting because if all the players are at least somewhat familiar with it you're speaking the same language? I mean, sure it can be fun to invent your own details about what the aliens and spaceships and nifty sci-fi tech looks like and how it all works, but sometimes it cool just be able able to say, "Yeah, there's a wookie rushing toward you howling and waving a bowcaster," and know that everyone knows what you're talking about. And if we're not playing in "The Star Wars Universe" and I describe a character as wielding a "lightsaber" everyone is going to give me a weird look and say, "What the hell, man?" But if we are, at least nominally, playing in that world, then it's no big deal.

    That said, I largely agree with most of what Mike has said. I don't think it's a good idea (or feasible idea) to try to recreate the books or the stories that you love. But you can take them apart and steal the nice bits. And sometimes the vocabulary.
  • It really is a catch-22, and to some extent, this is the advantage of working with something other than the masters. Zelazny was brilliant, but the Amber Novels were totally slapped out for cash. I would have a hard time making changes to some of his best work, but I have no real problem whacking Amber until the candy comes out. :)

    Here's the practical question. That you can make a setting that does everything you need from tolkein is something I can take as a given. Not even a question. What is a question is how well it captures what other people want out of Tolkien, and how well it conveys that image to the players? Obviously, it will succeed to some extent, but those are non-trivial hurdles. That creates a pretty simple opportunity/cost question. Is the cognitive dissonance of using the setting-as-written more or less disruptive than capturing and expressing the spirit of that setting in some other way?

    Answers will vary, certainly, based on tolerance, and on what people want out of a setting. For some people, as long as there are jedi, starships and lightsabers then a game is star wars. For others, the full texture of Lucas's mythology is necessary. Int he case of middle earth, I think you get doubly screwed with Middle Earth, because its completeness is part of the package right alongside elves and hobbits and rangers and wizards.. If you try to do a middle earth which does not have that depth, you lose what is an essential part of the setting for some, including yourself (though for someone who cares less about that element? Elves, hobbits, rangers and wizards? We're ready to rock!)

    Sorry man. I think you're hosed. :)

    Anyway, I think that it's well worth advising that people stop and think about what it is they actually want from a setting, and consider whether the game can provide that for them. Personally, I can't conceive of a Use of Weapons RPG, despite the fact that its premise is very gameable, because the parts that compel me are things I don't see a path to finding at the table, and because of that, my love of Use of Weapons would become a _detriment_ were I attempt to play it, because things would not only be bad, they would be _wrong_. And maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot here. I suspect there are some rocking Use of Weapons games out there in the gameosphere, even if they're not for me. What I _do_ wonder is if it's really insurmountable, or if I'm just killing my own fun, but I've got no practical way to answer that.

    But on the flipside, most of these questions and concerns are true of _any_ setting, whether from a novel, a movie, an RPG book or that scarily thick binder the GM is toting around, except perhaps that people may be more passionate about their favorite fiction. :)

    -Rob D.
  • edited September 2007
    Posted By: Mike HolmesA) This was precisely my point. You're avoiding playing during the peak set-up, the one with the most support, because you understand implicitly that it would be no fun to play during that peak period, because it's been all used up situationally.
    Well, I never disagreed with this point. My point is something else, that a game based on a setting can be a great springboard for a cool experience (either through system or session design). How and when and why you attack it in designing the fun is up to individuals, but the fact that you're in Tolkien's ME 1600 can enhance the experience, not only impede play.
    Posted By: Mike HolmesAt one point we wandered on over to the Anduin vale, and started to hear rumors of somebody in Mirkwood known as the Necromancer. Now I'm not usually one to want for secrets in the game, but the fact that I knew this was Sauron, and nobody else in the world of ME at that time knew this, blew. In fact, in this case knowing this really messed up my play.
    Well, that's a problem in the set up. I've played lots of games where I as a player know something and my character doesn't. The dramatic irony can be very fun if handled right. Why not just say "Obviously this is the time when Sauron is rising in Mirkwood." Let the players decide if they want to investigate the evil god or fight other stuff. Or set up a quest doing something else and keep having rumors of the LOTR backstory keep emerging, saying "If your characters knew what we know, you'd recognize this as the beginning of the fall of Moria. Which leads to a big Balrog v. Wizard smackdown two thousand years later. But this is not that story... actually Noble does this very thing in his game. He'll step back and say something like "This tower is the same tower that will, 2000 years from today, fall in a great battle between....but today it still stands regal and proud. (If we destroy the Tower? I guess it won't fall 2000 years from today.)
    Posted By: Mike HolmesBut, then, I also know that this is Sauron, and that we'd have gotten our posteriors handed to us, because even at the time, he's still a maiar, and waaaaay more powerful than we are.
    And yet. Little Frodo was brave enough to tackle bastard. Foiled his evil plots.
    But even worse than that... what if we succeed in some fashion? Then the history of Middle Earth is altered forever and in a massive way? We're going to re-write Tolkien for the better?
    Yes! Definitely! You can't play Tolkien's book. Its static, fixed for all eternity. You have to create something else with the material. Better? I'll leave judgement aside. Its like saying my cake doesn't look as pretty as the cake in the magazine. You can't eat the magazine.

    Why avoid creating a piece of game fiction because it can't live up to the fiction created by a SF master that has been read by generations? You ain't "rewriting" anything. Its not like you're replacing those novels with yoru own. They stay on the bookshelf and you still get to read that work any time you please. Maybe your Dunedain ranger takes out Sauron...cool! why not? Maybe you get toasted by Sauron...cool! Why not?

    You know what Tolkien would say if he were alive today? He'd say "leave me alone! You people are nuts. Its just a story. Its not a treatise against the Man, or nuclear war or technology. I wrote other things, too. Good things. I never expected all this attention. I just want to live the quiet life of an academic and you Beatle-loving hippies won't leave me and my wife in peace..." Well, that's not helpful. He's derailing our thread. Who asked him anyway?
  • Posted By: JesseI've never really seen the difference between playing in canonical fictional world and playing in a purely historical context.
    History is bigger and richer than any fictional setting, and is not designed to support one particular story.
  • Posted By: Mike Sands
    History is bigger and richer than any fictional setting, and is not designed to support one particular story.
    One the one hand I agree with you, setting IS character, that kind of thing. But on the other I'm not talking about some deep understanding of history. I'm not the world's greatest history student. I know as much about WWII as I do about the rebellion against the Empire (i.e. the major turning points and who the key players were).

    Jesse
  • To those discussing Declare/Cold City earlier, I played a badass Declare-esque game of Mortal Coil once. Different espionage agencies had different styles of magic based on their heritage. It was all weird. Americans were by far the scariest, and they were the antagonists of the game.

    They could turn into a swarm of flies.
  • -esque...

    That's our pal here, it seems to me. I can play Tolkien-esque. Or Dune-esque.

    James, your question is "Why not?" Well I'm telling you again, I tried it, and even asking the question sucked. I think it's because I want to be creating new themes. Fighting evil old Sauron? It's been done, and done best. I can't do it better than that. I've eaten that cake already; it's not in the magazine, it's in my belly. And even a good imitation of that cake? Well it's not my idea, then. I want these things to be things I'm creating, not repeating.

    Now, on the other hand, if we're playing Midnight, I have no problem with my character going off after that dark lord. In fact, I'd use HQ, and I'd definitely go for it.

    I know a bit about Noble's game, since it was I who helped him figure out how to run it to some extent on the Forge (he thanked me for the help at GenCon). If it ran well, cool; he did it despite me warning that I thought that it wouldn't work well for several reasons. But, again, that doesn't change the fact that you guys didn't play the Middle Earth setting from LOTR. You played one separated from that by 2000 years. And there's a reason why. My point isn't that you can't play in these settings if you alter them significantly, you can. It's just that, to the extent that it's still linked to the book setting it's problematic (at least for me), and to the extent that it's not, you lose any benefits like the ones that Brian mentions about common language and such.

    And then you're back at the point where you're as well off using a custom made setting. Because, Rob, how many Tolkien rip-off settings have you yourself created. For my own part, I've made a half-dozen. And they all worked just as well.


    Note that I'll admit right off the bat that one of the reasons that the ME game didn't work for me is that we were playing Rolemaster (no, not even MERP, it was RM). Which emulates Tolkien not at all well (Illusionists?). Had I been playing with HQ? Who can say? But even reading the LUG Dune, I was like, "So we play before the books start? I don't want to do that.

    I think that to a large extent the problem is that I don't see the books as valuable for their setting... I find setting to be cheap and easy to construct and get into. The thing that makes Dune incredible is the set-up situation, which causes the outcome. When I want to play in LOTR, I'm not thinking, "Gee, I want to wander around Middle Earth," I'm thinking, "Gee, I want to play a game about confronting Sauron as he rises from Mordor." And then I rightaway think, "But that's no fun, it's already been done." The urge is to catch that same lighthing in a bottle that is the confluence of the setting and situation. But this has already been done, and we know that recreating the lightning is a hollow act.

    Because for a player like myself, at least, I have to be making a creative statement with my play. If I'm just going through the motions, that's not going to cut it for me. So I don't want LOTR... I want a game that's LOTR-esque. And for that, a whole new setting is what works for me. Oh, I'll beg, borrow, and steal... all mythmaking does that, especially Tolkien's. But I have to make it mine in the process. And that's not going to happen for me in Middle Earth. Or, at least, it never has.

    Mike
  • edited September 2007
    At first I thought my experience contradicted Mike, but on reflection maybe not.

    My group did play Amber, and we did have a great time. We even had some book NPCs (Fiona, Gerard, Eric and Benedict, chiefly) though they were mostly in the background, scheming and manipulating.

    But nobody that I can recall particularly wanted to play the game because they were fanatical about the books and thought it would be the greatest thing ever. Most of us had read them at some time, and liked them (some of us needed a refresher, like me), but mainly we were playing because one of us had bought a copy of the game, and wanted to run some. His stuff is generally kick-ass, so up we signed.

    And perhaps that's the difference.

    I agree with Rob about Use of Weapons. I wouldn't base a game around any one Banks novel. Only the setting as a whole.
  • edited September 2007
    Mike, would I be off base if I were to guess that the prospect of interacting with the characters of the fiction is not something that moves your needle? I'm looking at the kind of points you want to hit, and "Lando Fucking Calrissian stole my girlfriend" doesn't seem to have a place in that. Am I imagining this?

    -Rob D.
  • Posted By: Mike HolmesI think that to a large extent the problem is that I don't see the books as valuable for their setting...
    An interesting perspective...actually some of my best semi-adaptations (I don't know what you would call what comes out of my process, see above) have involved situations drawn from sources whose settings are highly vividly drawn and interesting all on their own. The aforementioned Gotham City (a hyperconservative modern dark fantasy), Star Wars (pulp space advenchah), Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach (surreal Los Angeles inundated by magical realist water), Forgotten Realms (Canada plus goofy magic), 18th century Poland (why does Wikipedia's article on Catherine the Great have random profanity inserted in it?)...

    I am definitely going to do that 'big detailed setting -> campaign' thread. We've had this conversation too many times about too many things not to get that specific. :)
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