RogerBW's Blog

GURPS Adaptations, William H. Stoddard 22 September 2016

This supplement is not about a specific world, or an area of GURPS rules: it's about how to convert a fictional setting for use in a role-playing campaign.

Disclaimer: I received playtest credit in this book and therefore did not pay for it.

This is an odd book, and the sort of thing that would pretty much only be written for GURPS; most games these days come with their own setting, and the GM can be sold lots of pre-made material. Adaptations is about how to make your own setting, and while the context is obviously in converting other material (books, films, etc.) the decisions that have to be made will be significant even in a completely ab initio campaign.

There are six examples of source material used through the book: for obvious reasons of copyright rent-seeking they have to be works in the public domain, which is something of a pity as they probably won't be as familiar to the general audience as something more modern might have been. They are the Odyssey, the Water Margin, Pride and Prejudice, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dracula, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The first chapter is High Concept: how in a general sense do you work new stories round an existing one? Prequels and sequels, filling in the gaps between episodes, dealing with minor characters or locations, changing a key point in the original story and considering how things might have gone differently, or moving the core plot to an entirely different setting. Or indeed simply using the original story, though this can cause difficulties when players are more inventive than the original characters were allowed to be. This is further broken down with lightweight literary criticism into premise (the setup and quick description of the story and its world), genre (conventions of style more than actual setting), mood and theme ("what it's about" – less the Author's Message and more the big ideas that the work deals with). This chapter ends with a section on player engagement and expectations.

The remaining chapters deal respectively with places, people, things, and action. Places discusses the extraction of details of the world (physical, cultural, political) into gameable form, with considerations of scale, focus, and drama, with the emphasis on developing those locations where interesting things happen. People suggests how one can go about defining characters from a story in game terms (whether as NPCs or to be used in play), as well as how to make sure original characters fit in. Things considers inanimate objects, clothing, armour, equipment, vehicles, and so on. Finally Action suggests how literary conflict can be brought into the game, not only the melodramatic forms usual in RPGs but with some idea of dramatic forms too.

Like many of Bill's books this is relatively light on game mechanics, but I'd recommend it to anyone running a game that's not directly out of an existing game product: whether you're directly adapting a single source, or trying to set up a game that has the feel of multiple sources while not being directly derived from any of them, the questions and suggestions here are well worth taking into consideration. GURPS Adaptations is available from Warehouse 23.

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