Friday, April 20, 2012

Mining RPG Gold

I don't get to watch many movies these days.

That probably comes as a surprise for few who share my basic circumstances: a full-time job, a young child, a couple pets (and house) requiring upkeep, not to mention a tight budget of money, time, and energy. Even after the baby's asleep and the beagles fed and the chores finished, my life generally comes down to a choice between sleep and entertainment. And while sleep generally loses out (unless I'm feeling particularly responsible or exhausted), "entertainment" can mean writing or blogging or taking the dogs for a late night stroll or just catching a couple DVR'd sitcoms on the couch with my loving wife.

Even before the baby and the beagles my movie watching had slowed down considerably from "the good ol' days" (that's the 1990s), but yes, once upon a time I was a bit of a cinephile. And I still enjoy them...especially good ones. But my days of supporting low-budget, art-house stuff and cruising Scarecrow for foreign gems is pretty much ancient history. Hell, I can barely find a way to see the Oscar-films and I've got a considerable backlog on Netflix.

Netflix. Yeah, it's great and all, but I'm still lucky if I can find time to watch a single movie a week. The Ides of March has been sitting on the shelf for about three weeks now (right next to my unwatched six-volume Star Wars on BlueRay that I received for Christmas...shit), and I've got to get through that AND The Descendants AND The Artist before I can even think about catching up on the "fun stuff" that I'm wanting to watch (did I mention Star Wars?).

I write all this to dutifully impress upon you the gravity of the fact that I've recently added Game of Thrones to my Netflix queue..and moved it up in the order.

This I've done because of all the people who keep telling me (and my wife, who is NOT much of a fantasy fan) how fantastic the series is. I'm not surprised it's good...I've got sucked into many HBO series over the years (despite NOT subscribing to HBO) and have found much of it to be terrifically entertaining...even the light-weight stuff like Bored to Death. But watching TV serials of this type is another "thing of the past" for my wife and I; other than Mad Men, there's nothing serious that we follow on the TV, though we've dabbled into some of the quality stuff currently brimming the air-waves.

Now, personally I've never read any of George R. R. Martin's books. This is more a matter of timing than anything else. By the time he began writing his Song of Ice and Fire series (circa 1996) I was several years removed from reading fantasy novels...and at the time he was writing his SciFi and Wild Card stuff, well, I've never been a big reader of SciFi, even in my reading-obsessed youth. And superhero novels? Where are the pictures?

But, yeah, I'm familiar with the name, and I've since looked a bit into the Wild Cards (though only by way of a graphic novel adaptation I found in a used book store...still haven't read any of the boos). I find the Wild Cards subject matter incredibly fascinating, not because of it's approach to the "genre" but because much of it was inspired by Martin's RPG gaming group using the Superworld (Chaosium) RPG system.

Martin isn't the first person to adapt RPG-inspired events to the literary medium, though most such books, I'd imagine, fall squarely in the "high fantasy" section. How could they not, with D&D and its imitators being such a dominant part of the RPG market? When I was a kid with a long-running AD&D campaign, we often talked about writing short stories and novels about our characters and their adventures...a couple of us (not me) who were hopeful-writer-types even did put some of it to paper. I've often thought about revisiting those characters and events to pen some sort of novel, but when I try to think up a story-line I really can't do it in a coherent enough structure. I mean, I'm NOT a trained writer, and at the time I was too busy enjoying playing...I wasn't thinking how best to structure a narrative with my character actions (PC or NPC).

[just by the way, I know that it's not ALL high fantasy...if the author of those True Blood books didn't play a little Vampire the Masquerade back in the 90s, then she must be Rein-Hagen's cousin or roommate or something, what with all those blood bonds and princes and justicars and World of Darkness shit: faeries and lupine and whatnot]

Knowing this about Mr. Martin...that he is (or was) a gamer who's quite happy to draw inspiration from gaming...and knowing his reputation as an excellent, award-winning author is what makes the whole Game of Thrones thing so damn intriguing. Not because it's "a good bit of fantasy," but because of the TYPE of story that's being told. One of plots and intrigues and scheming noblemen. This isn't your average post-'87 bullshit "heroic adventure" story...this is high level endgame style play, the kind that went out of vogue decades ago (if it was ever in vogue). This is the kind of game...and player conflict...that I liked to see happen in my old AD&D games, the kind of game that I haven't been able to find anywhere in years. That is to say, I haven't found anyone interested in that kind of play in years.

I just find it fascinating that it's even POSSIBLE that a series like Game of Thrones (at least as I've heard it...remember, I've yet to watch the thing or read a single novel) could come out of someone's gaming experience. And yet, that's a distinct possibility with GoT, and one that I intend to watch for and analyze when I finally get around to viewing the series.

What I find (possibly, incredibly) ironic is that I'm guessing most gamers who are fans of the series are probably not playing games that deal with the issues presented in the series. Now, that IS a guess, okay...I haven't seen it, so maybe I'm completely off base. Maybe there's nothing fantastic to it...or maybe it is fantastic and structured just like a Pathfinder campaign. I'll find out when I see it. The point is, I've got it queued up for watching.

Probably in the next six months or so.
; )


  1. try to watch it a little earlier! you won't be disappointed.

    also, in my group one of our future campaigns will try to capture that style of play. it's going to be a wfrp-campaign set in the border princes.

  2. I recently watched it, and both me and my fiancé enjoyed it. It is more of a political story, but I like that, and there are other elements to it. Plenty of sex and blood too, if you like that sort of thing. There are fantastical elements, but they're low-key. Well worth watching, and although I'm not sure if actual game-play translates well to books, the world that's been created is excellent and I can see how a gaming experience would help with that.

    1. Do yourself a big favour and sit down and get watching. Most TV and film fantasy makes me wince but this is the best depiction of fantasy I've seen on TV ever. A fair bit of gratuitous boobage but really good dialogue and rounded characters. Love it!

  3. never heard Martin was a gamer, and no, the books don't read that way. Unless the game system was all about low-fantasy political intrigue.

    The series I've always read about as being derived from an RPG campaign is Steven Erikson's "Malazan" series. And that DOES read like it...or rather, a really overpowered give-away campaign where everyone is on the brink of godhood. One of the characters is a shameless mash-up of Elric and a Drow. Oh, he's also a were-dragon demigod. No, really.

  4. weird - when i read the books i told my gaming group that the story was everything we thought D&D should have been growing up. they read (at least to me) as a very realistic, humancentric low-level/low magic D&D campaign. i've never heard that GRRM played D&D back in the day, but i'd be shocked if he didn't. who knows...maybe westeros was his old campaign setting?

    the faceless men seem to cleave very close to the 1E assassin (the fact that they magically disguise themselves is very similar to how we did/still play assassins in our campaigns). most of the characters would simply be 0 level humans (sansa, cersei, littlefinger, etc)and low level thieves and fighters (ned, robert, jon, arya, the hound, etc) while the cleric, druid and MU classes would seem to be rare and heavily regulated. there is a smattering of magical items and weapons - valyrian swords, the horn of winter, dragonbinder, melisandre's jewels, etc.

    i guess what i'm saying is that it wouldn't be hard to use LL/AEC or BX/1E and a few house rules to recreate westeros. there's no need for setting specific classes or any of that crap. MAYBE one or two of the nonhuman races would have to be made from scratch - but that's it.

    as a side note, i seem to recall reading somewhere that GRRM coined the name "githyanki" in one of his old sci-fi books. interesting.

  5. Fan of the books/series here and recommend them. Yes, Martin is a gamer but I'm not sure that Game of Thrones came from one of his games. If it did, I think it more likely that it might have come from a miniatures game rather than a full-on RPG. My recollection is that he got the idea for the series after imagining the scene where the Stark family finds the dire wolves - and then set it aside for 10 years or something while he was writing in Hollywood. I think the series is more a mash up of various times of English history, specifically the War of the Roses and the Anarchy. You can see Martin's miniature collection on his blog.

    I think his Wild Cards (never read them) was more directly emergent from his gaming, and that they played GURPS if I recall correctly.

  6. Another vote to watch it ASAP. Even my wife is enjoying it (probably more than me!) and that speaks volumes of how well it's able to capture the viewer (my wife is not that much into fantasy.)
    I have run a short Westeros campaign, using the notes published in an old Dragon Magazine article (one of the first of the 3e era, IIRC) including a nice map of the setting. In D&D terms, it's mostly a low-level campaign, with some notable critters (dire wolves, wights, giants.) In fact, the suggestion in the article is to treat the standard character classes as Prestige Classes, so everybody starts out a Warrior, Aristocrat or Commoner. There is not much D&D-like magic, but probably an Adept or Witch (both in 3e DMG) should fit the bill.
    Probably the 2e Birthright rules could be used to frame a campaign there, too.

    Note that there is a Song of Ice and Fire rpg, published by Green Ronin. I have not seen it in details, but it seems to be built around politics and intrigue.