Adaptation, and Bloodied’s ramblings thereon

Tea: as this was written at work, which has the same kitchen equipment level as a Siberian gulag, no tea, just Pepsi Max, aka the mead of comedy

It has occurred to me, in my rare moments of deep thought, that there is a common thread between the two games I have GM’ed (yes, I’m counting that as a verb), beyond the obvious me. Both A Song of Ice and Fire and The Dresden Files are games that come from existing source material, and expansive source material at that. As a GM (admittedly only part-time GM in the case of Dresden Files), this creates both opportunities and obstacles, some inherent and some self-inflicted. We’ll be discussing these issues in greater detail in an upcoming podcast, featuring myself, Mawdrigen and Nyx, but I wanted to take the opportunity to write down a few of my own thoughts.

Well, that and Mawdrigen keeps telling me off for not writing more articles for the site.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is player familiarity with source. Given the success of both the ASOIAF books and the subsequent TV adaptation, it’s unsurprising that, with the exception of Nyx, everyone currently participating in Peril at King’s Landing is either a full fledged fan of Westeros or is at least familiar with it to a greater or lesser degree. Similarly, all four of us in the ongoing Dresden Files game are read up on the series (side note: next book out early July ~squees delightedly~). This familiarity creates a certain expectation among players; to truly run a good game not only must the GM run a fun game, he must also run a game that feels like it’s part of the universe in question. Admittedly, in most cases the GM themselves is also a fan, and so at least understands what they should be aiming to bring over. How big a task this is can be very much dependant on what universe you’re using. The Dresden Files takes place in a world that is recognisably our own, a point often driven home by the titular narrator’s love for pop culture references. Yes, there are monsters and magic by the barrel load, but even those are largely drawn from pre-existing mythologies and art. This can make it easier for a GM to draw inspiration and spin a yarn on the fly. It also aids the players’ sense of immersion, which tends to rather increase their enjoyment. Game of Thrones, however, takes place in a world that is quite different from the one we’re living in. Yes, there are some similarities, constants of human nature and politics and so forth, but the countries and lives and religions are all quite different, which gives the GM that bit more of a hill to climb to draw the players in, and can also make it that little bit harder for them to think on their feet (witness the pauses for book delving that have occurred in several of the GoT sessions we’ve released).

A common way around this, and one that Mawdrigen personally espouses, is to make it clear that this is a distinct variation on the source universe. This allows for certain inconsistencies between game and source to be written over, as well as removing the temptation for players to use pre-existing knowledge to their advantage (not that anyone in the Cult would do that, of course ~wink wink~). This is especially useful in any game where players are going to be interacting directly with characters, events, institutions, factions and so forth that are key to the source narrative. We’ve only just started to see appearances in Game of Thrones from notable characters from the series (those episodes are next up in the release queue, I believe) and given that we’re currently set before the main events of the series, these interactions are comparatively minor in effect. However, as time moves on, the existence of the player characters will undoubtedly start to have more and more of a diverging effect on the pre-existing narrative. This could be avoided by keeping the players away from where the canon action occurs, but then that would take away a large part of the fun. Or would it?

Contrary to that idea, the Dresden Files campaign has stayed away from the source material’s locale. Admittedly, this is much easier as all the source material is focused pretty much exclusively on Chicago, whereas the campaign takes place in California. This is not to say that events of the books have not had an effect on the player characters. There have been several cameos from members of the books’ supporting cast (guesses who on a postcard; winner gets a picture of a goldfish), and the second adventure that I GMed heavily involved one of the major events from early in the series: the onset of war between the White Council and the Red Court. Even this though was held apart, with the trigger incident still occurring in Chicago and simply acting as a catalyst for a separate, more personal plot of vengeance (again, more details on that in the upcoming podcast). This allows the players a sense of immersion, while at the same time not overly affecting the source narrative.

At the end of the day, different players are going to want different things, and it all comes down to a balancing act between the GM running the game they want to run while at the same time meeting the expectations of the players. In the case of running games set in a pre-existing universe, the work saved in preparing a background is often passed on to instead meeting the expectations of those who know and love the source material. Such work is often worth it, however, to let all involved feel a part of something they truly enjoy.

Besides, it also offer the possibility of seeing Garrick Snow punt Joffrey out a window someday, and that’s gotta be worth all the gold in Casterly Rock.

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