How Do I Do [x] With Your Game??



As part of my Halloween season binge this year, I'm watching The Craft, and I started to think about Night Shift: VSW and its toolkit approach to urban fantasy and modern horror gaming. That led to one of the most frustrating and consistent demands I get from fans: "How do I do [insert property here] with your game?"

One of the most common questions game designers get--especially those of us who are known for taking a "toolkit" approach to our gaming, is, "How do I do my favorite TV show/movie/book/comic with your game?" And if you don't give a concise answer, often people dismiss your game as not being TRULY toolkit. In many ways, this is an unfair question to begin with, and it doesn't mean that a game isn't capable of filling your needs if the designer can't answer that question right away. 

Consider the following:

Sometimes It's a Legal Thing

In some cases, the designer (and I've done this myself) doesn't want to answer the question just for legal reasons. This may seem overly cautious to many, but we live in a litigious society and when you post things for your game related to a property you don't have the rights to, it can be viewed by fans and the community as "official," which can lead to cease & desist letters and more. 

To be fair, it's unlikely that Disney is going to come after me, say, for my Gummi Bears post on this blog, but it certainly could happen. Sure, we all do it on occasion because it's fun and gaming is about fun, but yeah. It's definitely a concern. 

Sometimes They Just Haven't Thought about It

In other cases, the designer may simply have not really put any thought into the property about which you're asking. That doesn't necessarily mean it can't be done; it just means that people have a lot on their plate and the answer may not be so easy as to just jump to the mind right away, and they may be in the middle of other projects and just not have the time to work out the details at that specific moment. 

I've often turned the question around when fans ask me how I would stat out their favorite characters with my game, and asked, "The real question is, how would YOU do it?" After all, the game has been released for people to play, enjoy, and take their own approaches to these things, so in many ways it's disingenuous of the designer to answer all the questions. That might seem like a copout, but it's not: really, it's more interesting if you figure out how it works for you in your game rather than seeking an "official" answer that the designer can't give because see above with the legal thing. 



Sometimes--Just Sometimes--It Can't Be Done

No matter how good a game is, sometimes the source material just doesn't lend itself to in-game adaptation. I once had a friend ask me how I would do Superman or Doc Savage with Amazing Adventures. The truth is, no matter how good the toolkit game might be, these things just can't be done accurately without making some serious assumptions or considerations. To reach the power levels of these characters, you would need very high levels in play. Superman, after all, is completely impervious to everything except magic and Kryptonite. Doc Savage is a complete polymath--an expert in anything and everything, as well as being the perfect specimen of humanity. 

How would I do these characters? Truth be told, if you want to play these characters, you're power gaming. My answer was, "if you have to, start at about 20th level and go from there." 

Look at The Craft, for example. It's certainly possible to stat up the witches from this film, but consider their sheer level of power and the things they do. The spells they throw around are at least 3rd or 4th level, making them 5th to 7th level of experience. Second, how would you play a game based on that film? Three of the four are monsters or villains in an RPG sense, not appropriate for PC usage. The world of The Craft doesn't require anything special to work up--just roll up Witches using the Night Shift: VSW rules and go. But the characters themselves may not be appropriate to a typical campaign. 

Other series, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost Girl, Charmed, or Wynona Earp, on the other hand, certainly lend themselves to a straight-up play with the rules, and require little to no alteration to pull off. Not being able to do a game based fully on the events of The Craft (unless you have just one PC) isn't a flaw in the game; it's a factor of the source material not lending itself to that kind of adaptation. 

Check Your Reason for Asking

You may not intend to be disrespectful, but let's face it: the vast majority of times this is asked, it's being asked because someone, for no good reason whatsoever, is simply trying to "stump" the designer and/or "prove" their game isn't all they claim it is.  Put simply, that's just not a cool way to be, and if the designer reacts negatively, that's probably why. You may not mean it that way. You may actually be trying to do it yourself and you're stumped, and if so, that's fine. But be understanding of a negative reaction because I can almost guarantee any designer with whom you interact has had that exact interaction before--someone is arrogant or has a bone to pick, and is just trying to belittle the designer or make themselves feel superior by proving the game must not be that great after all. 

Embrace the DIY Aesthetic

In the end, this is just some food for thought. The next time you're curious if your favorite setting or property will work as an RPG, just take some time to think about it--it's way cooler if you figure it out than if you get an "official" answer from a game designer. That way it'll be yours and you won't have to wonder why certain choices were made. Gaming is all about creativity, and there's a whole world of satisfaction in the DIY aesthetic. After all, that's how RPGs started in the first place! 

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