The nifty little acronym of WIP, which stands for 'Work in Progress', fits my current thoughts on licensed RPGs and how to make them function surprisingly well. As successful as I have been with the concept over the years, each time I approach a new one it feels a bit like starting from scratch. I try to look at each IP and find what makes it special to me and what about it lends itself to gaming. For me, even though it could be considered my specialty, IP gaming is still a work in progress.
WIP could just as easily stand for 'Why Intellectual Properties'? Why not just use a published RPG setting or create your own?
Well to answer the latter part first, I do create my own settings. Fairly often actually. For the first part...latter. I mean, later. We'll get to that another time.
In the meantime, let's look at the Pros and Cons of licensing games.
Or...wait. I talk about the Pros all the time. Let me disect the Cons for a change.
Some of the drawbacks to running an IP based game are:
The players may be too familiar with the setting
The players know all the little secrets of the setting, perhaps because the series it came from is over or one or more of them is just a huge, raving fanatic when it comes to this particular subject. That can be frustrating for the GM looking to expand upon established ideas with ideas of his or her own. It also makes it difficult to surprise the players with the more obscure parts of the setting that you, the GM, intend to bring to the forefront.
The cure for this is often times worse than the problem and is perhaps the single biggest negative issue with licensed or massively popular IPs I see...
In order to make their own mark on an established setting, many GMs will make changes to said setting, ranging from minimal to drastic. At that point, players who wanted to game in their setting for its various canon elements (as well as their personal knowledge of those elements) cry foul and wonder why the GM bothered to say they were running the setting at all.
I have found this to be especially true to tighter, less open ended settings like Middle Earth, DUNE and The Watchmen. I have personally seen this dynamic ruin a potentially cool Forgotten Realms campaign even before it got started.
Now there are several easy ways around this situation.
The first one that comes to mind to is flat out state, right from the start, that you are running an 'Alternate' version of the setting. Seriously, it seems almost silly but I have noticed that if you say you are running a Transformers - Generation One campaign, for example, and you vary the canon even a little, the players will bring hell down on you. If, on the other hand, you say from the beginning that you are running an Alternate Transformers - Generation One campaign, players will be all excited and excepting of an anything-goes mentality.
People are very particular over their chosen favorites. Be warned.
Another way to go is to acknowledge canon but don't really pay attention to it. This is my preferred method. For example, in my Star Trek games set during the original series, James T. Kirk is the Captain of the Enterprise. He is. And that has no baring on who you are or what you are doing really.
Basically, in most of my IP games, the players rarely spend time with the primary characters or events of the series being represented. Those characters exist, those events happened or are happening but the PCs don't cross their paths very often.
In one Star Wars campaign we assisted SoroSuub Corporation and a Rebellion cell on Sullust (home of Nien Numb, co-pilot of The Millenium Falcon beside Lando Calrissian during the attack on the second Death Star) in freeing the planet from the Empire. Rebel Alliance High Command was very pleased as Sullust would make a perfect staging area for their next big mission coming up in just a few days to a week. That mission? The Battle of Endor. Of course, now that Sullust was free and the Rebel fleet was heading there, the PCs were needed on another adventure. The Rebel head Rimward to Endor and Death Star II while the PCs head Spinward to a possible Dark Jedi Outpost.
I have a lot more ideas and thoughts on the subject so please come on back soon.
Oh! Don't forget that I will be at the Soho Gallery of Digital Art tonight from 7-11 pm for the Dungeons And Dragons 'On and Ever Onward' event. Hope to see you there!