Adaptations in TTRPGs

Thinking back to what I wrote about adapting to a dual-stick controller previously, I was reminded of several examples of adaptation in another gaming context: tabletop roleplaying games. I’ve also written before about the forever nature of roleplaying rulesets and supplements in that they do not suffer from “hardware creep” (in printed or PDF forms at least). Unlike computer or console games they do not automatically become obsolete in the way due to the relentless march of computing power “progress”. We may move on from earlier editions of a game, or just change our focus to other things, but the books or PDFs sit there patiently waiting a rebirth – kind of like alts in former MMORPGs but without the sword of damocles of a game shutdown hanging over them. Although I’m not that nostalgic for ‘old’ editions of rulesets, the setting materials and adventures can always be given new life in a slightly adapted form.

I’ve read recently about SW5E, a community project set up by Star Wars fans to create an adapted version of the Dungeons & Dragons 5E ruleset for playing in the Star Wars setting. There’s rather a lot on the community site now: the system has been under development for years already at this point. This is appealing to me for two reasons: firstly, the sunk cost that I have in the 5E rulebooks and the fact that I don’t want to start on “yet another” unrelated roleplaying system: i.e. the officially licensed Fantasy Flight Games series of Star Wars roleplaying games. Secondly, this would be much closer to and more compatible with the almost complete set of d20-based Star Wars RPG (original and revised) books that I own in print – launching a 5E campaign would be easy with so much material at my finger tips. Sadly that won’t happen in the near future as I have less than zero free time for writing/starting another campaign – but it is a project I’ll put on the to do list. All those rich settings books would make quite an adaptation project for any such campaign.

Writing across different editions is one of the kinds of TTRPG adaptation that I have most familiarity with. In my longest running Eberron campaign (3E D&D), I got a hold of all the published 3E and 4E adventure modules and stitched, rewrote and expanded on them to form a more or less coherent campaign that spanned several continents and many years of realtime adventures. It was a whole heap of fun to do, I rather enjoy adapting published adventures as it happens. The 4E modules were a bit of a challenge as the rules for encounters building was rather different and NPC stat blocks a lot more elaborate. But a mix of rebuilding encounters from scratch and improvisation carried me through some fun sessions. It was probably this campaign that hooked me the most on rewriting published modules as a major focus of my creative time, I have since written three adventures from scratch myself (two published on DMs Guild and a third in playtesting), but that involves a sizeable amount of incidental work that speaks less to my core skillset and motivations (e.g. map drawing and layout work).

I’ve greatly enjoyed all the expansion and adaptation writing that I have done so far for parts 1-4 of the Dead Suns adventure path for Starfinder; all the ‘hard work’ is done for me: the maps are drawn and the plot is laid out. I get to embellish on that, fix the plot gaps or loopholes, add in extra scenes or encounters to fit my party and generally focus on polish and ensuring the adventures work for my group. I’m also deriving a lot of pleasure from the partial rewrite of my published campaign modules for a second group – maybe a little too much as the plot rewrites may be getting too extensive! Again, it has allowed me to focus on the things I enjoy the most (plot, encounter design, mysteries & puzzles), while using the preexisting maps and story framework.

A related final example of adaptation that I rather enjoyed was the creation of the Signalleer class archetype for the 5E Ranger, embedded firmly in the settting and plot of my Eberron campaign, but with a conscious acknowledgement that it could be of interest to a player or DM who just wants a new option for the Ranger – irrespective of what adventures are to come. I re-read this recently as was reminded at how much fun it was to take the same core concept and to adapt it for not only for other imagined campaigns using Eberron, but also the entirely separate Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft settings.

Am I describing an incredibly niche writing job here? Maybe this is actually the work of a developmental editor (something I’ve heard mentioned on the Mythcreants podcast)? It’s something I believe I am good at and really enjoy doing so I should probably see if I can do something about that…

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