Thursday, June 11, 2015

Setting Conversions

Not all game systems are appropriate for all players. People just aren’t wired so uniformly that a single game can best serve the desires of every player out there. One player might thoroughly love a  playstyle and game system that another player just simply can’t understand. There might be a third player who enjoys a little bit of both systems preferred by the first two, but actually enjoys a third system much better. Some people might be more comfortable with a free-form RP situation rather than using any sort of system. None of this is accounting for the people who simply don’t understand or enjoy the hobby. This isn’t all that big of an issue and the general result was people trying various game systems until they found the one they most enjoyed.



However, there did come to be an issue when someone enjoyed a setting, or at least the concept of a setting, but not the system it was played in. For a large portion of the history of the hobby, converting characters from one system into another has been problematic at the very least. Aside from HERO and GURPS there were very few toolkit systems in existence and it was pretty much the case that if you wanted to play X setting then you would have to play the system that it was made for. With conversions as faulty and inaccurate as they were, the process had something of a bad reputation as well. This has dwindled a bit in recent years, but can still be found.

There have been a few cases in recent months where someone has posted a request for advice to various RPG boards I am part of. The focus of this advice is in asking for suggestions on a system that they could use to recreate the setting elements of another game. One particular example is a person who wanted to play Palladium’s Nightbane but had players that did not like Palladium’s system. While some responders suggested Fate, HERO, GURPS and other such games with a strong
tool-kitting nature, there were one or two that responded defensively or even aggressively to the suggestion of converting Nightbane into some other system. At least one such poster insisted that the original poster “man up” and just play the game “as it was supposed to be played”. Similar responses have been made when suggesting playing Forgotten Realms using HERO or discussing a Shadowrun campaign that has been run using Fate Core rules.

Given that we know that not every system is a fit for every player, I wonder why this hostility to the idea of conversion continues. It would seem to me that it would represent a very marketable niche of publishing for companies like Palladium, White Wolf, Games Workshop, Wizards of the Coast, and Catalyst who all have extremely flavorful and wonderful world settings that they own the rights to. Such companies could easily produce system agnostic sourcebooks that give valuable information about the fiction of their worlds which individual GMs can use to reproduce the setting in the game system of their choice.

The recent trend toward Open-Source Systems would seem only to support this. For example, WotC could easily make a Fate Core supplement for any or all of their famous settings using the OGL rules that Fate Core operates under. Likewise, Catalyst could make use of Pelgrane Press’s GUMSHOE system which exists under both Creative Commons and OGL in order to create a Shadowrun focused on investigation using the GUMSHOE rules. For that matter, if the newest Dungeons and Dragons is operating under an open source license of some kind, it would be relatively easy for someone to create a Class/Level based Marvel RPG using the current D&D rules. For that matter, people interested primarily in running action packed miniatures combat could adapt the 4e D&D material into any of a number of settings. I know my old gaming buddies in San Antonio ran a particularly entertaining Wu Xia style kung fu action game with heavy roleplay using 4th Edition D&D.

This sort of cross-pollination would serve to broaden the audience of almost every company involved. There will, of course, be some companies that suffer more than benefit, but largely this something that would benefit the hobby. Right now, the Faerun property is mostly sold to people that enjoy the D&D gaming style. There is nothing official to support the play of the setting in any other system (though there are a quite a few fan translations of Faerun to other systems). If WotC decided to make contact with Evil Hat and make a Fate Core Faerun, then they would acquire a large number of new buyers from people who grew up with the Forgotten Realms TSR novels and Gold Box games, but prefer styles of play other than Class/Level. Likewise, if HERO put out a Powered by the Apocalypse version of Champions, they’d get a number of new buyers interested in their setting but who enjoy the PbtA playstyle. For that matter, a Dresden Files GUMSHOE match up would seem to be just about a perfect fit.

There has been a lot of discussion that the tabletop gaming community is shrinking, but that’s not exactly the case. There are many more families out there now for whom gaming is a shared interest. However, the hobby is rather splintering and going off into individual camps as people find a particular game style they enjoy and stick within the narrow list of settings written for that game style. Or you have cases where someone really doesn’t care about which system is used, but wants very much to play a particular setting which, unfortunately, is in a system that none of their friends enjoy. This presents a gateway for the settings and intellectual properties for each company; an unintentional barrier that blocks access to enjoying what they produce. It may not be nearly the barrier that the overpriced electronic formats present (which is another rant) but it is still a barrier.

The matter is not simple, of course. Staff and resources assigned to creating an official alternate system adaptation of your setting is staff and resources that could be assigned to creating more new material. This is a problem I am very familiar with given I have a fair number of world settings to write fiction and gaming product for as well as balancing my time with being a full time Assistant Language Teacher in Fukushima, Japan. The situation for a single-man operation like myself is seemingly mollified by the much greater resources at the beck and call of companies such as WotC. Even small companies like Evil Hat have a tremendous amount of resources compared to what I can allocate. However, that logical assumption of greater resources automatically making it easy to produce a wide variety of products fails to account for just how much effort such companies put into each of their products and thus how much of their resources are already leveraged toward existing projects.

There is also the fact that fans already do this and so why should the  companies work to produce something the fans are going to make themselves. Quite simply, the answer is that the fans would buy it. People who are really interested in toolkitting a setting will do it anyway, but people who just want to play X setting in Y system would rather have most of the work done for them ahead of time. The question is if there are enough people out there interested in this to justify the expense of a major company branching out into such a project. That is a question hard to answer. Other companies have done multiple systems for one setting in the past to varying degrees of success and anecdotally, the desire to adapt specific settings to specific systems seems more common in recent years, but that is purely anecdotal from the perspective of one gamer.

For someone like me to do the same setting in multiple systems is of minimal risk. Every publication I do ends up costing me money and I mostly do it because I want to rather than because I expect to make money on it. I am a virtual unknown, there’s barely anyone who has heard of me in any regard. So I have no reputation that will block my ability to sell stuff. If WotC spends $10,000 (to pick an arbitrary cost that is likely much lower than the real cost would be) to create a Fate Faerun thing and only enough sell to make $9,000, then they can’t really justify continuing the project. I’m one person, I can say “screw the profit” and just do what I want to do and accept the consequences. WotC and other recognizable companies can’t just do that.

And now it seems like I’ve gone from, this should be a thing to saying this shouldn’t be a thing. Personally, I think this should eventually be a thing, but I am not sure if the current gaming market has enough interest in such things for this to be profitable. I think the interest in adapting settings will only grow, however, and the companies that react to that interest will do better in the long run. At least, that’s the way it seems from a layman’s perspective.

2 comments:

  1. GURPS Mage/Vampire/Werewolf have already done this, but I don't know if it was profitable for White Wolf at the time (GURPS at that time was much more complicated to play and run than it is today, with 4E).

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