'Licensed' games

edited March 2006 in Story Games
I've never been very keen on 'licensed' games (official or unofficial), and recently I've been put to the test on it. In the last few weeks/months I've been invited to play CoC, Dr Who and Serenity; also, Lankhmar was suggested for Burning Wheel. My reaction in each case has been 'Meh.' In the past I've also tried Star Wars and Star Trek and they too fell flat.

I see a lot of enthusiasm on RPG.net and other forums for this sort of thing. Am I just curmudgeonly or is there a deeper structural reason for my lack of enthusiasm? What are other people's reactions? I know of the 'underbelly' technique, by the way, and that doesn't do it for me either.

It could be suggested that it's a matter of 'other people's settings', but I played happily in Glorantha for years and I still would be happy to play in that setting. My off-the-cuff diagnosis is that Glorantha is a setting designed from the ground up for gaming, while eg Star Wars is not. I wouldn't mind probing more deeply into this.
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  • I've never been very keen on 'licensed' games (official or unofficial), and recently I've been put to the test on it. In the last few weeks/months I've been invited to play CoC, Dr Who and Serenity; also, Lankhmar was suggested for Burning Wheel. My reaction in each case has been 'Meh.' In the past I've also tried Star Wars and Star Trek and they too fell flat.
    I have the same reaction. I think that part of the problem (historically speaking) is that licensed material cleaves very close to 'surface' of the license (the Color, if you will), while the mechanics and the themes of the settings are never really explored in any depth. One of the few exceptions was the original Ghostbusters game, which was brilliantly done and evoked the spirit of the movies.

    It doesn't help that the games often have some fantasy-heartbreaker house system backend. I mean, what about Unisystem screams Buffy? What about the Icon System screams Lord of the Rings? Nothing, really. Hell, you can't even model the characters in LotR correctly in the RPG that bears its title.

    I've heard good things about the original Dr. Who game - I don't know much about it, though.
    It could be suggested that it's a matter of 'other people's settings', but I played happily in Glorantha for years and I still would be happy to play in that setting. My off-the-cuff diagnosis is that Glorantha is a setting designed from the ground up for gaming, while eg Star Wars is not. I wouldn't mind probing more deeply into this.
    It's true that you can 'hear the dice rolling' in the background of some settings. I was forced to sit through Alien v. Predator the other week, and that setting definitely has gaming potential. Same with Chronicles of Riddick. I don't think that means the other settings aren't gameable - I just think that you have to approach them from a very non-standard systemic POV, which may not sell well with 'the masses'. I've suggested a couple of times that Dogs is perfect for Firefly, for example.
  • I had the original Dr. Who game.

    It stank.
  • Just to be clear, the Dr Who game I was invited to play in was going to be using HeroQuest, as was the Serenity game. It's not the system, because I'm rather a fan of HQ. Again, I think Dogs is a terrific game, but I'm not interested in doing Firefly or Star Wars with it.

    Is there something wrong with me? In a narrow way, I mean. I simply can't get excited about playing in any of these media properties.
  • Just to be clear, the Dr Who game I was invited to play in was going to be using HeroQuest, as was the Serenity game. It's not the system, because I'm rather a fan of HQ. Again, I think Dogs is a terrific game, but I'm not interested in doing Firefly or Star Wars with it.

    Is there something wrong with me? In a narrow way, I mean. I simply can't get excited about playing in any of these media properties.
    Are you a fan of either one?

    I'd play a Firefly game with Twilight:2000 if that's what it took.

    If you are a fan, ask yourself this: Do you think that the games won't live up to expectation? Is it the group or the game?
  • One thing about playing in a media property is that most people understand the setting that it's based on, and can get "into character" quickly without a lot of overhead about how the world works and the like.
  • Are you a fan of either one?
    Not really. I can take or leave either one. I am, however, a big fan of Fritz Leiber, and the thought of playing in Lankhmar gave me the same reaction. That's actually when I began to consider this as some sort of problem.

    It's a problem because it cuts down even further my range of options, and I can't seem to make anybody understand--thus, hurt feelings etc. I'm starting to wonder if there's anybody even here who will get it.

    Andy, I understand quite well why pitching a game of this sort has significant advantages. The guys I play with were all salivating at the thought of the Serenity game. I was just... meh. I can't see the point.

    I'm off to play Dogs tonight. I am filled with anticipation. But if Vincent himself was running a Lankhmar game, I doubt I would be interested.
  • I also don't get the thrill of playing in a licensed setting but given how well they sell, I'm obviously in a minority.

    I'm all about playing in a setting that is inspired by literature, a movie, etc.

    But playing in a setting firmly based in a book's setting...I get a case of the meh's.
  • Really, Judd, why is that?

    Where do you draw the line?

  • I rather like using settings from TV programmes. I ran a crossover LARP recently based on All Creatures Great And Small and An American Werewolf In London. It went well and the setting worked very well. I'm doing a Terry Pratchett LARP later in the year.

    I think it's immensely important not to be precious with the setting, though. Some groups, when using these sort of settings, are so restrictive that they it makes it hard to tell stories. You need to take risks with the setting: to twist it and throw it in new directions.

    For example, I played very briefly in a play-by-post Dr Who game. It was awful. The players spent a lot of effort being the characters (as they were portrayed on the TV) and none creating adversity or new characters. Terrible.

    Graham
  • One thing about playing in a media property is that most people understand the setting that it's based on, and can get "into character" quickly without a lot of overhead about how the world works and the like.

    That's true, but I think it carries a disadvantage that people behave as they've seen the character behave before.

    What I've seen, in this sort of game, is people try to play the character like it was in the TV programme. And that leads to oddly static characters.

    Graham
  • The important thing, when doing a game based on a TV or movie, is not to take characters and situations directly out of the source material.

    If you're playing Dr. Who, then the Doctor and any companions you care to name shouldn't be PC's. We know, for example, that there are at least three renegade timelords, at the time of the sixth doctor (Dr. Who, The Master, and The Rani) though the eighth doctor maintains he is the last of his race. Why not a fourth? Timelords are also known to travel together (Key to Time series) so why not three?

    That's the key, really.
  • Shreyas,

    I'm not sure how to put it into words. I like collaborative setting design, making the setting together or at the very least adding to it together and licensed settings often feel more like a straight-jacket to me.

    I'm not sure how else to put it.

    Does that make sense?
  • I like the idea of a 'serial numbers filed off' setting, since the characters don't have to compete with stuff that someone else has already done.

    Like Star Wars: there's just no point for me in playing during the time of the (worthwhile) movies. If I were to play, it'd have to be some other era, which is pretty much the same thing as playing an 'inspired by' game anyway.

    Firefly, at least prior to the events in Serenity, has a lot of room available for heroes, since the stories in the series aren't really all encompassing. But eventually I'd be like, crap, I'm gonna run into Mal, and he's cooler than my guy.
  • edited March 2006
    Matt wrote:
    Like Star Wars: there's just no point for me in playing during the time of the (worthwhile) movies. If I were to play, it'd have to be some other era, which is pretty much the same thing as playing an 'inspired by' game anyway.

    Man, I have been tempted to run a game that was doing the prequels right. That might very well be neat.

    http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=254798
  • edited March 2006
    Judd, my man! You understand!

    And I've been thinking it over some more. Take Serenity/Firefly: there doesn't seem to be anything particularly cool or interesting about the setting as such (it's Traveller, right?). The main thing is the characters and their story. If you do what they did--well, it's been done. If you don't, why not any somewhat-generic SF setting?

    It's the same with Buffy. Unless you do exactly what the people in the show did (demons, vampires, you know the drill), what do you do? And if you do do exactly what the people in the show did, well, they've already done it, with better writing and acting.


    EDIT:@#$%^&;* tags!
  • edited March 2006
    And I've been thinking it over some more. Take Serenity/Firefly: there doesn't seem to be anything particularly cool or interesting about the setting as such (it's Traveller, right?). The main thing is the characters and their story. If you do what they did--well, it's been done. If you don't, why not any somewhat-generic SF setting?

    It's the same with Buffy. Unless you do exactly what the people in the show did (demons, vampires, you know the drill), what do you do? And if you do do exactly what the people in the show did, well, they've already done it, with better writing and acting.


    Actually, I pretty much agree with all that.

    So I think it's important that you don't try to emulate the setting or the characters. I think you try to emulate the themes of the story.

    For example, many Buffy episodes are about the issues people face growing up, but transposed into a demon-infested universe. So you could so something about that. And Dr Who is very concerned with death and innocent people dying (an innocent person dies in almost every episode), so you'd need to have that in a Dr Who RPG.

    I'm just throwing out ideas, you understand, but something like that.

    I'm not saying you don't use the setting or the characters. You do, but you don't put your energy into making sure the setting and characters are exactly right. You concentrate on the themes of the story.

    Graham
  • Graham is 100% on.

    The problem with licensed games is that often they concentrate too much on the details of the setting's technical or census data as opposed to telling you how to get the same feeling and themes out of the setting that the original media did.

    With that said, there was a very interesting discussion at I-CON I was in where it was stated that licensed games sell well because they cross-over to avid fans of the original media who want that data. The original Star Wars game, as well as the Guardians of Order anime guides were both mentioned, and the proof bears out - if your gaming material is the only place hard-core fans can find out how big the Millenium Falcon really is, then you'll sell plenty to non-gamers.

    But, honestly, that's fucking lame.

  • I'm not opposed to licensed games, I like them. I just don't think there are very many good ones out there.

    Buffy is one of the good ones, IMHO, and I've spent a fair amount of time playing it and even ran a game once. There are actually several features of the RPG that make it well-suited for the Buffy material, most notably the Drama Point mechanic.

    What I was trying to do when I ran it was to explore some of the themes and dynamics of the Buffy TV show in a different setting, with different characters, to see what came of it. Basically, the setting was the Rust Belt, Gary Indiana, and the characters were (mostly) street kids and orphans, and the Watcher figure, instead of an idealized father figure, was an unreliable drunk who'd been fired for sleeping with his previous protege. There were never any characters or events from the Buffy canon, because I wanted to avoid any fannish obsession over accuracy.

    I see that as exploring a given, very narrow genre, not as trying to bring the TV show back to life. Sure, I could have tried to do the same thing by generically trying to start up a game about a bunch of misfit kids who fight monsters while struggling with their issues -- but it's a lot quicker to just use the B-word.
  • edited March 2006
    A few various things:

    I have a fair number of friends (most of whom are not in the same RP scene as I am, and whom I only know because of other RL things) who play in liscenced games (Buffy and Star Wars being popular) who get around the whole "what about the stars" issue by playing the stars. If you play Buffy then one of you is Buffy, one is Willow, one is Xander, and so on. At that point the game becomes about getting to be the character you like most, and seems to have a similar attraction to fan-fic (either to celebrate or confront, to shake it up or do it right).

    Heck, I know one group that did a whole cycle where they pretty much replaced the Timothy Zahn Starwars novels, with the PCs being the Jedi-Master Luke, Mara Jade, Senatorial Leia and so on because they thought that Zahn did some interesting things with situation but fucked up the story he'd set up. Last I heard from them they were going with what Paka had talked about -- doing the latest trillogy right, with PCs as Qui-Gon and Amidala and such.

    As for how/why that is interesting... well I'm going to make some guesses based on things that they've said. The interesting comes partly from the thrill of getting to be a character you've fantasized of being, from the difficulty of doing the character right by the standards of your community, and by the creativity of expressing new situations through a familiar focus. We all know Buffy, right, but what would Buffy do here? Can you be as cool? Will the others at the table accept your choice as showing real insight into the character?

    Also, the point about the familiar focus goes in with what Andy said -- if you already know a character you don't have to create, you just have to act. It's worth noting that a lot of these folks don't have the long background in "making this thing that thing" that a lot of RPers I know have. You read Conan books, like Conan, know you can't just play Conan, and so make Fangor the Barbarian to play. As you grow up/get better at that the characters move further away from simple standins and allegory -- but the focus often stays on taking elements of character and situation and reimaging them into something new. These folks, otoh, never really did that -- so when they want to play Conan they just play Conan. At that point their primary mode seems to be more that of the actor than the director/writer that we, the Story Gamers, tend to focus on. These guys author in much the way a method actor does -- by putting their interpretation upon an extant character through the foucs of their own emotional world. They get from it what an actor gets from playing Hamlet. He certainly won't be the first, he won't get to change the play, but he can bring that character out differently than anyone else has.

    Now, that said, the majority of "standard RPers" that I know from "the scene" don't really approach liscenced settings like that. They seem to get into the game by being excited about the setting -- not the situation nor the game it will make -- but the sheer neatness of the setting. I know that I do this sometimes, where part of my geek brain thinks that because I think the setting is just so cool that the game must be just so cool too! Some folks probably even have the skills to make it so, but I don't... and so I've become quite burned out on pre-generated setting in general at this point, and licensed setting doubly so.

    (As a note: those who talk about sticking close to the theme of the show without recreating the actual show are showing one such skill. I still might be interested in someday playing Save the Last Slayer. I do see a point in making new situations that mirror other themes.)

    Of course, I wonder if, on a Story Games forum, we're going to get a lot of positive responses to this that bring out the reasons why folks like liscenced settings. I mean a lot of folks have tried (and Andy's point is solid) -- but with the Nar/Do it yourself/I'm a designer vibe around here I think we're going to end up missing the point simply because it isn't for most of us.

    I mean, I'm not meaning to hash on you guys -- I'm worse than most of you -- but really, it's "Fucking Lame" because it isn't what we want, not because there isn't a point to it.
  • Graham Walmsley wrote:
    So I think it's important that you don't try to emulate the setting or the characters. I think you try to emulate the themes of the story.
    Interesting. I tend to go the opposite route -- I emulate the setting and to some degree characters, but come up with new themes. The last two campaigns that I've gamemastered in have been licensed: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and James Bond 007. I did similar in my mid-nineties Star Trek campaigns.

    The advantage to me of using a licensed setting is precisely that you have the setting determined. In Buffy, I don't have to explain what vampires or werewolves are or what they look like -- everyone knows that from watching the show. If I 'm doing a generic modern magic game, I have to explain all that from scratch.

    But I don't want to repeat the themes of the shows. I want my game to go in directions that make it different than watching the shows. The game also functions as commentary on the original. This was especially true of my Star Trek and James Bond 007 games -- they brought new perspectives on the background, creating new themes from the same material. For example, several times in my Star Trek game, the PCs came upon worlds that the Enterprise had visited years earlier. (Some of the players referred to this as "cleaning up Kirk's messes".) My game was more about politics than ethics, and that made for interesting questions.

    Clinton R. Nixon wrote:
    The problem with licensed games is that often they concentrate too much on the details of the setting's technical or census data as opposed to telling you how to get the same feeling and themes out of the setting that the original media did.
    Well, to my mind, the problem I see is simply repeating the original material rather than adding to it. So, I can see value in game stats for creatures and characters, as well as timelines, maps, and so forth -- and especially on mechanics or techniques that convey aspects of the background. On the other hand, simply describing characters and other elements in the show is pointless. It's wasted space for those who have seen the show, and paper-thin imitation for those who haven't.

    I like methods for getting similar feel -- but generally ignore material on getting the same themes, since it's not a goal I'm interested in.
  • Hm.

    So a good licensed setting gives you a kind of kit, with all the different game elements you want, from which you can pick the bits you want.

    Play Buffy, in the Buffyverse, except now she's thirtysomething, with a kid in middle school and a husband who drinks too much.

    Play Buffy, angsty highschooler, except instead of battling vampires, she's dealing with an invasion of Deep Old Ones.

    Play not Buffy, but Jodie, who's not an outcast, but a popular cheerleader who has to balance vampire slaying with a full social calendar.
  • I think so, but then I'm part of the kitbashing game-tinkering subculture. I think that gives a licensed game a lot more replay value, once the thrill of playing the RPG version of your favorite show wears off.

    Let's face it: the ultimate reason why the Buffy RPG exists is the same reason that Buffy t-shirts exist: it's product people will buy. EDEN studios makes money and publicizes Unisystem, Joss Whedon's company makes money and gets free advertising. True Fact: I never watched Buffy until I played in the game, then I went on to buy the DVD sets of Buffy and the other Whedon shows.
  • DannyK wrote:
    Let's face it: the ultimate reason why the Buffy RPG exists is the same reason that Buffy t-shirts exist: it's product people will buy. EDEN studios makes money and publicizes Unisystem, Joss Whedon's company makes money and gets free advertising. True Fact: I never watched Buffy until I played in the game, then I went on to buy the DVD sets of Buffy and the other Whedon shows.
    I agree. Is that any different than non-licensed RPGs, though? I mean, the reason why there's a Warhammer RPG, or an Exalted RPG, or a HeroQuest RPG, is because it's product people will buy.

    Are there key differences between gaming worlds and non-gaming worlds? For example, Glorantha was originally created for a boardgame. Does that make it different than Middle Earth, which was created for the story of The Hobbit? I think role-playing works tend to be more complex in differences from our own world, because for campaigns players will spend more time learning about the background. There's considerable overlap, though.
  • John,

    There is a huge difference between Glorantha and Buffy. Glorantha is the vision of a single man who has worked and sweated and given his guts for it. Buffy is the shill of mass market producers who are trying to use their market position to steal our money that they might bathe in the filthy lucre.

    That was sarcasm, btw. Though I'd bet money that something of that sentiment that at least partly informs the differentiation in many minds between "a setting made by one of us" and "a setting made for something else by one of them" (especially if you move away from cult favorites like Buffy and into things like Stargate or whatever doesn't get the geek love but does get the geek dollar).

    The only thing I would honestly say is different between some RPG designed world and some licensed games is that the RPG games are developed for games, while the licensed games often get stuck in the uncomfortable gap in writing a sourcebook for fans of the license and in writing a book that works well for playing a game. Of course, you will probably quickly counter that is just a matter of quality and that the best of both types serve equally well… and you'll be right. I just see a slightly better tendency towards coherence in middle tier RPG designed worlds than in middle tier licensed worlds.
  • edited March 2006
    I think I'm with John and DannyK on this issue: if I were interested in a setting that came from other media, it wouldn't be for the themes; it'd be for the cool crap that's in the setting and for the fact that the setting is already fleshed out and detailed.

    Having said that, my interest in a given setting depends very much on how "played out" the setting is, within the existing canon. For example, I can't imagine wanting to play a Star Wars or Middle Earth game, because those settings have such strong stories that anything else you could do with them would either be overshadowed by those stories, or would basically undermine the original stories themselves.

    I'd contrast this with other settings which have been used as the background for interesting stories, but where the entire fate of the setting doesn't get sewn up in a world-encompassing epic. Lankhmar doesn't begin or end (at least up to the last book in the series, which I haven't gotten round to finishing), it's just this place, y'know? And Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser may be great heroes, yet they aren't colossi standing astride Nehwon--in fact they've got their own masters, sort of.

    So I think of it in terms of open vs. closed settings.

    Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: awesome setting, but totally closed. There's something big going on that determines the fate of whole world. Once it's resolved, you might be able to piddle around but any new "big thing" undermines the "happily ever after".

    Macross: You'd think it's closed after watching the first series/movie, but the sequels point to ways that you might be able to reuse the cool stuff.

    Elric/Stormbringer: I haven't read the books but given what I know, it sure seems closed. (Nevertheless I think the Chaosium rules set itself is nifty in a stripped-down BRP kind of way.)

    Star Trek: totally open, especially if you ignore the later series and crappy movies. (I don't expect to get a lot of understanding from people under 30 on this, though.)
  • edited March 2006
    Elliot,

    Now that you mention it, I do sometimes run/play in Howard's Hyborean Age. Mostly, I think, because its easy to avoid Conan, adventures in it are set up to be punctuated, periodic, and picaresque, and Howard set it up as a big sketch with lots of room to be filled in with fabulous color based around his personal oeuvre. Really, due to its position historically its become a genre as much as a setting -- and thus something I will exploit for short-run and one-shot games where I want a "genericish" fantasy setting that none-the-less carries a strong set of tones and assumptions.

    Though, I don't play with the Mongoose game based on the license. So, once again I've managed to marginalize myself.
  • edited March 2006
    Yes, I suspected as much although I've near read a single Howard story.

    Here's an interesting tangent: Lieber and Harry Fischer developed a Lankhmar game back in the 1930's which was the basis for the boardgame published by TSR in the 70's.

    Lieber was a pioneer of fantasy wargaming/proto-RPGing. He wanted a world that was "open" for play. Glorantha had a similar history.

    Hârn, although lacking the "other media" incarnations, has an important philosophy behind it: all game modules provide information about the history of their subject up to a specific time (I believe it's 720 in the general reckoning) and no farther. I believe this is a promise on the part of the publisher. Basically, there's an explicit space for expanding the world's history through play, in your unique group.

    Edit: more info on the Lankhmar game here, at least until the listing expires.
  • But what about ME?!?

    Ahem.

    There is a huge difference between Glorantha and Buffy. Glorantha is the vision of a single man who has worked and sweated and given his guts for it. Buffy is the shill of mass market producers who are trying to use their market position to steal our money that they might bathe in the filthy lucre.
    Brand, I get your point here, and I don't deny that there may be something to it. But also, isn't there the point that the world of Buffy was created specifically to tell stories about Buffy (and doesn't exist apart from Buffy), while Glorantha was created as a world in which many different stories can be told?

    On a related point, do you feel that Howard's stories are superior to L. Sprague de Camp's? If so, is there a question here as to original creation vs pastiche?

    I can actually see a point to subverting or redoing a property; more so than the other application.

    For example, Glorantha was originally created for a boardgame. Does that make it different from Middle Earth, which was created for the story of The Hobbit?
    John, it's my understanding that both worlds were actually created as worlds of the imagination before they saw any sort of literary form.
  • As I understand it, Glorantha was first created as the love-child of a single man, then made into enough of a world to make a board game, and then created through play by a group. Much, btw, like OTE -- which got that weird because of things that folks did and thought up in game.

    Which is a different experience than that one had by those who play to discover the world created by those other folks.

    Buffy's also a weird one, as Buffy was partly created to tell stories of Buffy, but as it's both a thematic show and a show set in the "our world but with monsters" setting of so much of modern horror (deliberatly in Buffy's case, part of the point was playing with tropes), its much less specific than say... Middle Earth.

    Now Middle Earth I can very much see the point in not playing in. Sure you could play rangers in the North, but THE STORIES (Simarlion, Hobbit, Ring) have pretty much been told. The point of the setting is done, and I know why its a problem to play there if you're not doing some kind of Sim agenda.
  • Brand_Robins wrote:
    The licensed games often get stuck in the uncomfortable gap in writing a sourcebook for fans of the license and in writing a book that works well for playing a game. Of course, you will probably quickly counter that is just a matter of quality and that the best of both types serve equally well… and you'll be right. I just see a slightly better tendency towards coherence in middle tier RPG designed worlds than in middle tier licensed worlds.
    I'm not sure I see that. Many RPG-designed worlds seem pretty incoherent to me: i.e. the World of Darkness, the Adventure/Aberrant/Trinity universe, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Traveller, Deadlands, and so forth.

    droog wrote:
    Brand, I get your point here, and I don't deny that there may be something to it. But also, isn't there the point that the world of Buffy was created specifically to tell stories about Buffy (and doesn't exist apart from Buffy), while Glorantha was created as a world in which many different stories can be told?
    As for not existing apart from Buffy -- the setting is used for two television series (Buffy and Angel) as well as a number of novels and comics, such as the futuristic comic "Fray" written by Joss Whedon. Now, it did indeed start with a film script, but I question the importance of this. (See below)
    (Re: Glorantha and Middle Earth) John, it's my understanding that both worlds were actually created as worlds of the imagination before they saw any sort of literary form.
    Well, but aren't many fictional worlds created in the imagination before they see literary form? How do you distinguish the ones which were imagined this way? Is the original intent of the author that important? From what I hear, Tolkien did imagine Middle Earth as a setting prior to the story of the Hobbit. But does this make it fundamentally different from Howard's Hyperborea or Le Guin's Earthsea? I think the original intent isn't as important as how the setting develops over time.
  • edited March 2006
    Is the original intent of the author that important?
    Yes, I think so. But more later.
  • I'm going to take one of Elliot's points and run with it a bit, with the 'open' v. 'closed'. I think that one determining factor is the prevalence and relative strength of the narratives and characters that have been detailed within the diegesis.

    Star Wars has to live up to the expectations created by the movies. The Buffyverse was created to showcase Buffy, and more to the point - Buffy is *unique*. Well, there's Faith, but you get my drift.

    Star Trek is more open, firstly because there's no strong central narrative. Yes, things like the Borg happen, but they're not Earth-shattering (so to speak) events. And more to the point - the Enterprise is not unique. Yes, it's special as the Federation flagship, but there's a whole crapload of other ships out there doing the same kind of work - even other Galaxy-class starships.

    Glorantha is playable because there's no strong central narrative, and no central, unique, figures or features to the setting. Forgotten Realms suffers a bit from Elminsteritis (and the Time of Troubles). It's also why LotR and Dragonlance are hard to play in - the events of the fiction are so central to the setting that any other play is simply ancillary.
  • edited April 2006
    Huzzah, Kuma and I agree on something. Two and a half things, in fact--I don't know from TNG, but in the original Trek (and immediate derivatives), there was definitely a sense of "all kinds of stuff is going on besides Kirk and his band of merry high-heeled crewmembers". I liked that the Enterprise wasn't a flagship or the first ship of its class.

    Brand, Jonathan Tweet has partly disclaimed the idea that most of OtE was improvised during play. Look at the note at the bottom of this page. I'm not entirely sure how that relates to anything, but then I'm not on the same wavelength with this "one person's idea vs. corporate product" notion.
  • Kuma, you said:

    <i>Glorantha is playable because there's no strong central narrative, and no central, unique, figures or features to the setting. Forgotten Realms suffers a bit from Elminsteritis (and the Time of Troubles).

    I love Glorantha as much as probably anyone -- but I do have to say that there are times when Glorantha suffers from Elminsteritis, even in some of the published plot books. However, you're right that it has nothing as bad as the Time of Troubles.

    Eliot, you said:

    <i>Brand, Jonathan Tweet has partly disclaimed the idea that most of OtE was improvised during play.

    True, and I didn't think all of it was made up in play. But a good chunk of things happened in reaction to play and to things players did. People in that game were partly exploring the world, but partly creating it. It's still different than those that want to fully explore and not create.

    And P.S. I'm not on the wave of genius vs corporate either -- which is why I was being sarcastic earlier. I do have a thing about creator ownership and vision, but that is not inherently the same argument as the liscence vs. non-liscence nor corporate vs. individual.

    John, you said:

    <i> Many RPG-designed worlds seem pretty incoherent to me: i.e. the World of Darkness, the Adventure/Aberrant/Trinity universe, Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Traveller, Deadlands, and so forth.

    Heh, true enough. All of those were also developed over time, and mostly by writers, rather than in one go by an individual or through play by a group. I was thinking more along the lines of things like Midnight, Eberron (though its incoherence is growing rapidly), Arcana Evolved, Agone, and so forth.... However, at this point I have a feeling I'm shifting from discussing "liscenced vs orriginal" and into "supplements make a game incoherent vs supplements add posibilities"... so I'll just say I don't think we're really disagreeing in a substantive way and let it drop.
  • Elliot, I'm not sure we're reading that paragraph in the same manner:

    http://www.jonathantweet.com/gamestaxis.html

    Notes

    “A lot”: There's an idea in indie RPG circles that almost all of the background in Over the Edge was invented through play. In fact, most of the setting was dreamed up and prepared ahead of time, in the standard world-creation style. A lot of it actually came from Robin D. Laws. A significant amount of material, however, did grow spontaneously out of play, a lot more than is typical for a campaign. In fact, the setting was designed partly to allow just such improvisation. As others have pointed out, I didn’t do much to show GMs how to improvise their own material. This rant is a small step in that direction.
  • edited April 2006
    Judd, for me there are three key parts:

    1) Most of the setting was dreamed up ahead of time.
    2) The setting was designed partly to allow just such improvisation.
    3) The published setting includes a significant amount of the fruits of the improvisation that occurred in playtesting.

    What's most important to me isn't whether the published material was produced "ahead of time" or "in playtesting", but whether it still leaves room for development & improvisation. If OtE doesn't leave room then I'd see it as a closed setting. If it does, then it's an open setting. Obviously, it'd be a bit more open if Tweet minimized the material that came spontaneously from play. And it'd be even more open if Tweet didn't provide any background at all--maybe he'd just slap some hype in the intro about conspiracies and tell people to read some Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, and Illuminatus!.

    In short, for me, the attraction of a pregenerated setting isn't that it tells you exactly how your game is supposed to turn out. Apparently that is what some people have gotten out of such settings in the past--based on what I've heard about Vampire and L5R, and possibly also Deadlands and Freeport. Frankly, I disown all that "metanarrative" stuff. If it can't be disentangled from a setting, then the setting is correspondingly of negative interest to me.

    But lack of a "metanarrative" is a quality of "open" settings. If we can agree that pregenerated settings can exist without strong metanarratives, then what is their attraction? Why not just write some stuff about theme & color, and point to a few inspirational sources? I think it's because an "open" setting both contains points of attraction for its audience (the cool crap), and because it provides just enough "grip" for the wheels of creativity...for that audience. And importantly, I think, the audience wants enough pregenerated "hardness" to the setting to support the illusion of reality, which is necessary for many kinds of immersion.

    (And on a different point...Brand, even though you labelled it as sarcasm, I completely missed the point of your comparison of Glorantha vs. Buffy. I get it now, though.)
  • I think that most people who don't go for licensed settings also are people who don't see the fun in fanfic. The fun of fanfic (for me) is using the junk in the setting (the "Color" in a rotten piece of terminology from the Forge) to experiment around with stuff in a creative space that we already know we like. We don't have to struggle with creating everything, or expressing everything, we have a nice set of prefabs and stock-footage that we already think are cool-looking.

    Why do you think that sex is so popular in fanfics? It's sure less intimidating than writing erotica about characters you made up yourself and for whose smut-filled existence you are solely responsible.

    Similarly with licensed RPG settings - sometimes you don't feel like slogging through making a setting or a character when you know you and your group will emotionally respond, in a postiive way, to an already existing character, setting or plot. It's nothing more or less than that.
  • JD said:Why do you think that sex is so popular in fanfics? It's sure less intimidating than writing erotica about characters you made up yourself and for whose smut-filled existence you are solely responsible.

    JD, you just made me understand a big piece of what I was missing. Thanx.
  • JDCorley wrote:
    Why do you think that sex is so popular in fanfics? It's sure less intimidating than writing erotica about characters you made up yourself and for whose smut-filled existence you are solely responsible.

    Similarly with licensed RPG settings - sometimes you don't feel like slogging through making a setting or a character when you know you and your group will emotionally respond, in a postiive way, to an already existing character, setting or plot. It's nothing more or less than that.
    (As for why sex is popular in fanfics, I would say that's because sex is popular -- and sex is especially popular in anonymous circumstances.)

    I think that fanfic is more than just an easy or safer way out of creating original material, though. So, for example, the common trope of homo-erotic Kirk/Spock stories isn't just using Kirk and Spock as stand-ins for original characters. The stories are a commentary on the original (and a fairly radical one). Fanfic is very much about reinventing and changing what the material is in people's minds. It's taking what is normally passive consumed, and actively messing with it to make it your own.
  • I think that most people who don't go for licensed settings also are people who don't see the fun in fanfic. The fun of fanfic (for me) is using the junk in the setting (the "Color" in a rotten piece of terminology from the Forge) to experiment around with stuff in a creative space that we already know we like. We don't have to struggle with creating everything, or expressing everything, we have a nice set of prefabs and stock-footage that we already think are cool-looking.
    There's a downside to that, however - a confinement to the spirit/look-and-feel of the original material. No, you don't have to create everything from scratch, but you also can't take am existing character and go off in a radical new direction - new and interesting fetishes (wingfic!?) not withstanding. This also, I think, misses the boat when talking about original settings - cribbing from extant material is a time-honored tradition. I played an entire campaign as, essentially, the fantasy analog of Jean-Luc Picard. Not that I told anyone at the table that.
    Why do you think that sex is so popular in fanfics? It's sure less intimidating than writing erotica about characters you made up yourself and for whose smut-filled existence you are solely responsible.
    It also handily avoids writing analogs of your friends and local-area desirables who might find your filth!
  • edited April 2006

    I can't stand fanfic. I don't buy (tv/movie) licensed games either! Perhaps there is truth to this.

    Confession: After I saw Episode III, I was so totally gonna rush out and buy Star Wars d20 and whatever Episode III sourcebook Wizards had obviously released. I probably wouldn't have ever played it, I was just itching to look new Extended Universe stuff.
    Fortunately for me but strangly for them, Wizards had discontinued support for the SW RPG, favoring the collectible minis line instead.

  • Absolutely you can crib to make original settings, there's no bright line between my Jade Empire fanfic in which none of the original characters appear but the general mythology, geography and history are used, and a generic wuxia fantasy story, and a 14 year old boy's fanfic in which Dawn Star makes it with the Princess. It's a broad spectrum and tastes differ as to where on the spectrum is the best/easiest/most effective place to be.

    John Kim has always schooled me on licensed settings, he does so again in his post.
  • Well, I guess I'm fucked, unless I play with Judd, Clinton and Larry.

    I'm still thinking about this and trying to articulate something.
  • Well, I guess I'm fucked, unless I play with Judd, Clinton and Larry.

    Can I join you?
  • Droog,

    You don't get it.

    Other people like it.

    What's the deal?

    We articulated some interesting points on this topic.

    What didja want?
  • Nothing in particular, Judd. The discussion has indeed been very interesting. None of it has made me any more inclined to be happy with the situation, but that's nobody's problem but mine. Fair enough?
  • I'm probably coming to this discussion late, but I would like to relate my experience of running a Jedi-based Dogs game last sunday.

    Several of the players are taking characters that address (either by challenging or embracing) aspects of Jedi-ness that the movies don't really address strongly.
  • The aspect of Jedi-ness whose addressal would bring me to Star Wars is the aspect where you beat the fuck out of Yoda for being a self-righteous little muppet shit.

    Give me a game where I'll be allowed to do that, and I'll be happy.
  • Hey, Droog, I'm at least 50% on board with your dislike of licensed settings. Where I remain puzzled is why you like Glorantha but dislike the idea of playing in Lankhmar. (I'd toss in Star Trek but if you're not an old TOS fogey like me, then I imagine all the Borg-dominated continuity of TNG might get in the way of enjoyment.)
  • It's the ducks.
    (Personally I find Glorantha to be silly and dull at once.)

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