Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Remember My Name

I've remarked before about how it seems like the very best RPG stuff gets pulled from the things that move us. My friend Boomer has this great Dungeon World campaign, set in a world of his own divising years ago, and it's been great watching all of that come alive, and having it inform his own game. He cited videogames like Dark Souls and comic books like Skullkickers for his influences. I have seldom, if ever, made a campaign based on such influences.

I'm wondering if I should start. Right now, I'm just in the brainstorming stages, but I'm thinking about making a dark, modern crime drama campaign based on my all-time favorite TV show, Breaking Bad.

Taking a page from the Fargo FX TV series playbook, my campaign would be called Breaking Bad, take place in New Mexico (or is it Arizona?), and have the same themes as the show, but the story would actually take place years after the rise and fall of Heisenburg. So this game would be more about the ideas, settings, and themes of the show, not the characters. That's where the PCs come in.

It seems to me, off the top of my head, the best system for this would be Fate Core. Session one would be character creation, where the group discusses each character they plan on making, and we together sketch out some of the important NPCs. Like the TV show, there would be these connections between all of the characters and NPCs, even the protagonists and antagonists, the same as Walt's relationship to Hank in the show.

Finally, one cool concept I'd like to gank from Hillfolk: the dramatic poles. In Hillfolk, Robin Laws describes how characters in the game should be in a constant internal tug-of-war between these opposing forces in their heart. For Walt, this was between being a responsible family man and a power-corrupted drug lord. For Jesse, it was between being a partying punk kid or growing up and accepting responsibility. I'd love to see each player come up with dramatic poles for his or her character, and then have adventures revolving around the ongoing battle between those dramatic poles.

Mechanically, it's very important to me to keep the "game" in role-playing game. If I wanted to tell a story, I'd tell a story; I don't need a group for that. So where I'd begin to spin away from the TV show is in the design for the campaign. The characters would, presumably, be motivated to start their own drug operation for whatever reasons, and from there, the kinds of concerns and pitfalls the characters deal with would unfold at their own pace. Ideally, a session of Breaking Bad: the Roleplaying Game wouldn't have a set adventure: it'd have procedural rules (not unlike The One Ring) detailing how, exactly, certain things happen, and what kinds of problems can occur. I would walk into a session with little to no idea on what's going to happen: rather than preparing a story, my job as GM is to strictly play as the world, interpreting the results of
dice rolls and creating reactions to the players' actions.

The resulting game environment wouldn't so much be a collaborative sandbox like, say, an Apocalypse Engine game, but more like a machine cranking out a fun story/game. Like using the random dungeon charts in the D&D Dungeon Master's Guide to make an adventure. For that reason, although I'm still pretty confident Fate Core is up to the task, a more traditional game like GURPS might be able to handle it, as well. I guess it depends on where I want the whole story/game balance to be. On the one hand, I wand this to be a game in no uncertain terms; on the other, I am going for a very specific narrative.

Will I ever actually try this? Maybe. Maybe not. It's definitely not the first idea for an avant garde RPG campaign I've come up with in the pages of this blog. But it's interesting to think about, at least...
Tread lightly.


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