RPG Talk: What Happened After the Movie?

One of the harder things about role-playing game settings is that they can sometimes require a lot of front-loading. The GM may have read the sourcebook(s), but the players usually haven't (for their own protection, really), and the former is stuck explaining a lot of things during chargen or play itself. It makes immersion difficult and the characters can't be expected to act "correctly" as if they'd really grown up in the campaign setting.

I suppose that's why licensed settings retain a measure of popularity. It's much easier for players to jump into the worlds of Doctor Who or Star Wars or Lord of the Rings or DC Comics, but unless you have a group of homogeneously geeky players who are all equal fans of the same property, you're still going to hit a snag with immersion. And often, players will admit to some insecurity if they're not as knowledgeable as you are about a chosen setting.

I think most gaming groups fudge the details and create a version of the setting that THEY recognize, especially over time as their characters discover and shape it. That's not what this article is about. This article is about jump-starting a game or campaign from a shared experience. The whole group can't be expected to read a sourcebook together. It's also unlikely to experience an entire franchise as a group. So let's chop it down to a bare minimum. A single movie.

Here's the experiment: Watch a single film as a group, then decide very quickly what would happen next. The players could take the roles of characters from the film itself, or create their own who pick up where those tragic heroes left off. It'll possibly be a "side-story" that occurs in parallel. You might even want to set it before the film and make a prequel of it. Regardless, the idea would be to turn the film into an easily digested video sourcebook everyone has had access to simultaneously. The game system is academic, whatever you prefer really, usually something generic that can cover anything. GURPS, FATE, Savage Worlds, d20, whatever. The GM CAN do that research before hand and chosen something that fits the tone of the selected film. Is the action cinematic? Gritty? Does it feature super-powers, magic, martial arts? Etc.
Obviously, you could create sequels to films set in the real world, and it would work. I mean, it's still fun to imagine what the sequel to The Shawshank Redemption or Casablanca might be, or how you could amuse yourself copying a certain style more than a setting - Pulp Fiction, for example, or Fargo (the TV show basically pulled a "campaign" out of the movie and is a fine example for what we're getting at here) - but the concept is really about grasping new and unusual settings. The dystopian future of Equilibrium, the crazy kung fu of [insert Shaw Brothers movie here], the fantasy-sf of John Carter, superheroes according to Hancock, the magic and comedy of Inside Out...

It's your chance to make sequels to the films you loved but general audiences didn't, or at least, not enough. Maybe you could even rewrite history and take the reigns of a franchise before you stopped liking it. I mean, where would YOU take The Matrix franchise if Reloaded never happened? Another twist on this idea is to watch a TV pilot for a show that either didn't go to series, or that no one in the group ever watched, and just build from there. This is a case where players not having a firm grasp on pop culture actually HELPS.

So there you go, some inspiration to kickstart one-offs and mini-campaigns, surely. What movie would YOU tackle?


Michael Ruch said...

That's a great idea, often I have found that everyone has their own ideas of a setting. But if you use this as a template, then it narrows them all down.

Chops said...

Assignment: Earth? Probably best if your players know the 60's well, but they can get by with just knowing a bit of James Bond. If you've got one or two trekkies in your group, you can throw in bits for them too.


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