#RPGaDay2015: 9 – Licensed RPGs are Over-Rated

This is a tough one for me. On the one hand, most of my favorite media has had RPGs made out of it: Babylon 5 (twice—and I might be the only person who thinks the first version was really great), Farscape, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who (at least 3 times, each one better than the last), Battlestar Galactica, Pirates of Dark Water, just to name a few off the top of my head. On the other hand, there are lots of things that I love as movies or books that I really don’t want turned into an RPG—I enjoy witnessing the story, but I wouldn’t want to tell my own stories with those characters. And, finally, in many cases what I love about a show can easily be captured by Primetime Adventures or some other genre-specific RPG, and since I already have an encyclopedic knowledge of my favorite shows, I really don’t need an extensive sourcebook to tell me what works how.

But there are a couple things that I think could work well as an RPG, and haven’t been done yet, and don’t obviously translate with existing games.

The Muppet Show could be an interesting excuse for quips and puns and wacky hijinks, with no need for the plot and external conflict that those are set against in other stories. But would I want to play my own characters? I don’t think I’d want to play the existing muppets. And how long would the backstage hilarity keep us entertained as participants as opposed to audience? Maybe this is another one best handled by Primetime Adventures and binge-watching the TV show as a group.

Stargate—the movie, not the TV show. Personally, I never did see the appeal of the TV show. It took the boring final quarter of the movie and repeated it ad nauseum for years, while basically ignoring the good part of the movie. But an RPG that’s about going xenoarcheology and xenoanthropology? That would be amazing! I suppose it would be sort of like Sign In Stranger lite. Still, a game that could make that sort of discovery of a new society, and connecting with it (not shooting it) interesting without having to spend hours of effort first creating the alien society, would be really fun, and other than maybe Sign In Stranger, I don’t think there’s anything else out there that could do it.

VR.5 remains one of my favorite TV shows of all time, and I’d love to see it as an RPG. But it’s basically a long mystery plot with a novel bit of tech MacGuffin and a bit of chosen one thrown in. Other than revealing the answers to the mystery, I’m not sure what a licensed RPG would bring to this that couldn’t be had by simply recreating the story yourself.

Which brings me to the only one on this list that I think would actually work and be commercially viable: A good changing-history game. I’m thinking of Continuum or the Terminator series, where it’s not about bopping around in time willy-nilly (like Doctor Who or Bill & Ted or, well, most time-travel-focused TV/movies), but rather about the consequences of changing time, and the tough question of whether you should do it and what you [can’t] do about it if you didn’t mean to. Of course, even here there may be a published game already that would handle it: Primeval. Though I don’t know whether it does anything more than suggest judicious handwaving for significant history changes.

Unfortunately, I’m just not sold that actual licensed works are valuable. As I’ve said before, it seems to me that the things that we love about specific existing stories—TV, books, movies, comics, etc.—don’t really translate well into the RPG context, unless it’s the world (and not the specific stories or characters) that you really love. I love a lot of fictional worlds, but usually those that also feature particularly compelling stories or interesting people.

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