Monday, March 9, 2015

Adapting A Song of Ice and Fire

[apologies...last week was sick kid and this week it's...well, it's sick kid again. So it goes...]

Been spending a lot of time with Game of Thrones the last few days. That is to say, with George R. R. Martin's epic A Song of Fire and Ice., certainly...because Ye Old HBO took to playing back-to-back marathons of the TV show's four seasons a few days back (only just ended last night). Normally, my television watching is confined to late (and I mean really late) evenings watching something on the computer with the spouse...Downton Abbey or House of Cards. But Game of Thrones is that kind of television crack that you can just throw on and wallow in. It's like Sex and the City for the Tolkien crowd.

But the TV show's not really what I've been spending my time with...instead I've been spending my time in Martin's world. Not the books, no...I don't have any of 'em here and I pretty much stopped reading after the second novel. They're really not my thing. They're too big and too slow developing (because of the multitude of story lines and characters one has to track on). And too dark. I mean, I dig on "gritty fantasy" but its just a little too rape and pillage...too sadistic. And I mean authorially sadistic (as in, Martin's a damn sadist to his readers). Why do all the people have to be so gross to each other? It's fine writing, I suppose, but after a few thousand pages I'm done with not coming up for air...the TV show's enough, thanks. And usually THAT's too much for my taste (at least, the weekly injection of soft porn that comes with an HBO episode).

No, what I really dig is the setting Martin's created. I find his particular "fantasy world" to be a really nifty adaptation of your typical fantasy RPG tropes. There's quite a nice mix of stuff one could pull out of any Old School D&D game...and least one in which the "magical elements" have been toned way the heck down. Of course, in a world without much in the way of "undead" do you really need clerics? No, of course not.

[I also think Martin's version of the "ranger" is the best I've seen in game or fiction since Tolkien first introduced Aragorn into fantasy. I love everything about the Night's Watch and their Wall]

Anyway, what I've been spending most of my free time reading has been Martin's backstory for the novels, all that "stuff" leading up to the drama in the books/show. That's been care of the A Wiki of Ice and Fire web site, which is quite well done. For me, the history of Martin's world is far more interesting than the "current events" of the books' timeline. Perhaps because I don't have to deal with the soap opera of personalities, or perhaps because it tickles my love of reading history (even fake and fictional history), or perhaps because that history has Melnibonean-style dragon lords flying around and conquering shit. It's just great stuff.

And it once again leads me to think about adapting Martin's Westeros world to the Pendragon role-playing game. I wrote about this before (back in 2012) before deciding against it (a few days reasons for dropping the project isn't exactly clear, I'm afraid). But Pendragon is one of those few RPGs I brought with me down to Paraguay, and I've been re-reading it a lot recently. For my mind, it really is just about the perfect system to adapt to such a setting.

[why did I bring Pendragon down here at all? I was actually considering it as an adaptation of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books...but that's a subject for a different post]

Sometimes you stumble across a system that really feels "right" for a particular setting or IP: Traveller for Firefly, for example. It's not that the game's own setting (assuming it has one) doesn't work or fit. But the design just seems so well suited, you wonder why a fan of the "world" wouldn't just take the easy road of adapting the system.

[on the other hand, there ARE some systems that are a terrible fit for their settings...Cadillacs and Dinosaurs comes immediately to mind. Just God awful]

Not that it's entirely perfect, mind you. Pendragon doesn't have a personality trait for "perversion" which is probably a must for all the incest, sexual deviance, and gross violent tendencies found in Martin's fantasy world (lust and cruelty might not quite cut it). Knights appear to win their spurs around age 16 or 17, not 21 (see Gregor Clegane, Jaime Lannister, Rhaegar Targaryen, etc. Ned Stark was  18 when he participated in the Tourney at Harrenhal, so was presumably knighted prior). Battles happen more frequently than "once a year." And if you really want to model the characters found in Martin's book, you probably need an "Intelligence" stat tied to skills (which Chaosium uses for its similar BRP system, but which isn't present in Pendragon). It would otherwise be tough to make a character like Tyrion.

[Pendragon's default assumption that player characters are composed of "first sons of first sons" would need to be changed as well, in order to fit into Martin's less-than-Camelot-ideal setting. But if you were playing A Song of Ice and Fire...with the associated soap opera intrigue and civil war...such an adjustment would be pretty small. You'd probably want multiple playable characters from each family, due to the violence of the Seven Kingdoms. Maybe a group point buy is necessary...that would explain why Jaime Lannister is such an excellent fighter, while his brother is deficient in size and strength (hard to justify otherwise in a game that doesn't include random stat generation). Just an idea...]

But aside from these "tweaks," the system seems exactly what's needed to model the epic scale of the drama in the Seven Kingdoms. The relationships with family, the traits, passions, and Glory, the combat stylings, the "low magic." Actually, I have to say I find the (conspicuous lack of) magic system in Pendragon to be more in line with what one finds in the Martin books than what one finds in King Arthur fiction (which often throws quite a bit of supernatural "stuff" on the pyre). Though I suppose it really depends on what's your preferred favorite interpretation of the Arthurian saga.

I've really been missing gaming the last week or so, and not just gaming for play testing, but gaming for gaming. I find myself really wanting to get into an epic, long-term game (like Pendragon)...if I was back in Seattle, I think that's probably what I'd be trying to setup. That or, maybe, Traveller. *sigh* Some day we'll be back.

I think I might just futz around a bit with converting Martin's books to the Pendragon system. I kind of wish I had the Green Ronin book now...not for its system, but for its maps and setting information. But with a helpful wikia at hand (thanks to all the fans who update this), I can probably make do. I'm even considering picking up a copy of the old Knights Adventurous (available in PDF from Drivethru), to check out how their rules for creating non-knightly characters. Not that I want players to have the option of being "maesters" or "wildlings," mind you but...well, you know.

If I do any real work on this, I'll post it to the blog. Just for interested folks.
; )

Don't you want your Pendragon to look like this?


  1. The SoI&F RPG pdf is on sale for $14 in the Green Ronin store. As a heads up. :)

    Pendragon does seem like a good fit. It not just about the character but the family and, by extension, its lands.

  2. Nice post! I have been long thinking about the same lines; Pendragon fits almost to a T. I suggest you give a look at the 4th edition of the game, which includes characters other than knights, and also has a pretty evocative magic "system", which would fit the stuff we have seen in Game of Thrones until now quite well.

    1. @ Antonio:

      I'm currently using the 3rd edition rules, though I did end up springing for a PDF of the old Knights Adventurous (whose rules were incorporated to make the 4th edition...minus the magic system).

      I actually prefer "no system" (of magic) for the setting, as the magic on display in the fiction is pretty much all over the place...from raising folks from the dead to summoning invisible demons to clairvoyance and "Beast Master" shtick.

  3. Curious about what you don't like about Cadillacs and Dinosaurs - I've read the comic and I have the game but have never played it.

    1. @ Lige:

      C&D is the most boring RPG I own...and I own some pretty boring ones. I think I've written about it before.

      Personally I love Xenozoic Tales (and own all the comics in a trade paperback). I think something like the GUMSHOE system would probably work better with the system, given XT's emphasis on exploring mysteries of the Xenozoic age.