Designing your campaignEdit

Adapting fictional sources to role-playing gamesEdit

Anyone playing role-playing games is always drawn to the idea of using sources they enjoy as the setting for adventures. If you enjoy something as a TV series, a film, or a book, odds are that you’d like to spend time in that ‘world’. Unless you’re already a top-flight film star whose agent can secure you a guest appearance, the best way to do that is through role-playing games. This article will suggest things to consider when you are adapting something into a game.

Source Material: Is the source material suitable for role-playing? Are the characters balanced, is there potential for plenty of adventures, and will the environment be right for the kind of game your group wants to play?

Scenario Options: Are you going to have the PCs involved with the events of the book or film? On the plus side, this helps them visualise the scenes much more easily if they are also familiar with the source. On the down-side, they already know what’s going to happen, and they don’t have such a feeling of being the ‘stars of the show’. But there are ways round that…

Background Knowledge: How much do you and the players know from the source, and how much will you have to add? Consider how much extra material you will have to create to make the game work. Do you have the time or the creativity to do that if there’s a lot to add? That’s why many people like published campaigns: all that work’s done for you.

Player Information: How much do you tell the players in advance about the ‘world’? You need to give them enough background to create useful characters and have an understanding of the laws and customs to get by in the first adventures, without overwhelming them with info-dumps.

Storylines: How much scope does the milieu have for ongoing adventures? Some are very restricted “bash’n’loot” tales, others have a much wider palette of environments for adventures.

Resources: What resources do you need to prepare in advance?

  • A map of the ‘adventure environment’. This map is REALLY important! It gives the players an understanding of the relationship between things that they will never get from your descriptions alone.
  • ‘The Book’ – a summary of all the information you have about the ‘world’ (galaxy, city, whatever) where they’ll be adventuring.
  • The players’ briefing – a cut-down version of The Book.
  • An outline of the first three scenarios. If you can’t think of three scenarios to begin with, then the setting fails the requirement for storyline potential.
  • Optionally, you might want a campaign arc. A plan for where the whole campaign will take the adventurers. Not every adventure will be related to the campaign arc, but it will give you a track along which to develop some storylines.

Finally, I have an example of a campaign outline I have developed to illustrate this process. It’s based on Dark Angel, James Cameron’s TV series starring Jessica Alba.