Sep 032012
 

My first post since someone out there decided I was officially awesome. I better not screw this one up…

I was reading in a blog somewhere this week about inspiration for RPGs, and where it comes from. I used an example in the comments section about reading the back of a book that looks interesting, and then with no other input, imagine the plot taking part in your game world and how it would work. It’s a simple enough trick than can be very rewarding if you put the mental effort into it. Today though I want to talk about the way a massive body of work inspired me, and how I turned that inspiration into a campaign that I plan on running for roughly nine months.

What inspired me was the work of Comic book writer Warren Ellis; more specifically, his masterful run as the creator/writer of cyberpunk comic book Transmetropolitan. If you haven’t read, I strongly advise you to do so. Maybe not right at this second, but by the end of the week I expect you all to have made the effort. There may well be a test. It’s not so much the characters that inspired me, or even the story he told, but the world that he created. It’s how I went about turning that into a place people can role play in that I will be discussing today.

First off, I needed an intimate familiarity with the world. This wasn’t hard, as I was happy to take a weekend and read the entire run once more (I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve done the whole series in a single sitting) to get the feel of the setting as fresh in my mind as I could. Then I broke out a note pad and pen, and started reading again…

I had several pages with different headings, each for things I wanted to incorporate into the game world. There may well be other stuff that pops up that comes from what I remember from the comic books, or just my own imagination, but these lists are the things that I wanted to touch on that would help define the post-cyberpunk feel of the setting. Details will be a little vague if you don’t mind; I know that several of my prospective players read this blog, and due to the nature of the characters they will be playing, I don’t want to spoil too much.

The first things to go down were the easy bits that make great window dressing; the things that one can buy. Since I’m using CP2020 as my system, I knew that shopping could be a big part of the experience, and as well as keeping the basic stuff from the four chrome books – just for the sake of ease – I also wanted to make it uniquely Transmetropolitan. So every time anyone in the comic book ate something or watched an advert for a product, it went on the list. This means the players can eat baby seal eyes whilst drinking Ebola Cola.

The characters would of course need somewhere to buy these fine products from, so any shop in the books also got a list. In actual fact it was a small sub-list of general places to go. Due the sandbox nature of my GMing style, I fully expect the players to explore the wider city, and I wanted to give them a different feel for different places and wealth levels. As an example, the print district is right next to the upper class con-urb area known as Puritan Mewes, and you won’t find chain store burger bars or gun retailers in that area, more your bespoke luxury foods and weapon emporiums. I was a bit tempted at this point to consider mapping the city out; as I say, I want/expect the players to explore, but I often find that maps can be a bit of a hindrance to me when I GM. If the world exists as more of an abstract in my mind, then I can play with it a bit more to suit the needs of the game and the expectations of my players. I know some gamers and GMs may frown on this, but it works for me.

Next came the most fun bit, and also the longest list by far; fun things to do/see when wandering around the City. Because of the open world feel, and the fact that plot hooks are fairly well distributed around the game world, I needed fun things to keep the players occupied while they explored. This meant several pages, split into sub lists by the length of the experience, of just stuff. Off the top of my head as I sit and type; humans that have turned themselves into floating clouds of nano-computer robots with the ability to restructure matter, just floating past, having fun turning people’s clothes into bananas. That’s just a quick one, but for a longer term sub-plot, the players could decided to investigate a historical reservation; a place where cultures from the earth’s past are kept alive in perfectly enclosed areas. With willing volunteers re-creating them, down to the most exacting detail. The characters who wish to visit them will be totally decontaminated and vaccinated against everything that their bodies no longer have a defense for, and can interact with the past; the people living in it having had implants in their brains allowing them to see people from the real world and process the experience without being driven insane.

Add to that a couple of generic lists of names and time-lined events that I may or may not use, and I have built up a pretty good picture of a world for my players to have fun in. It took quite a bit of time, and would almost certainly have been easier to play in an established world with splat books detailing all of the above for me, but I’m such a fan of the comic book that it was totally worth the effort. And you know what they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. So if you’re reading this Warren Ellis, please see it as that, and don’t sue me…

  5 Responses to “Converting a much loved comic book to a role playing campaign setting.”

  1. Converting settings to RPG is a lot less hard than people think, and you pretty much nailed it. Be familiar with the setting, and you can draw out how to get the flavor in the fluff, then adapt the crunch. Great post!

  2. [...] games I’m going to be running in the future. The first I have talked about before on this very blog, and it involves taking an established comic book setting and turning it into an RPG world. This [...]

  3. Man, Cyberpunk2020 is absolutely perfect for Transmetropolitan.

    I still want to mash up Futurama and Transmetropolitan and run it with Star Frontiers, but I’ve been accused of being insane.

    Ah, filthy assistants.

  4. [...] sadly had a body drop out for personal reasons, so with the field shrunk I should be fine to run my post-cyberpunk game set in Warren Ellis‘ Transmetropolitan universe, using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules. below [...]

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