Having come to the Dungeons & Dragons party late in life, I've been dedicating regular nights over the last couple of years to the ways of character sheets, rolling for initiative and the other intricacies of roleplaying.
But now that I've gotten better grounding with at least one of D&D's systems, it's gotten me thinking about what other settings and stories are like to venture to. And after a conversation with a hardened D&D veteran whose about to wrap up a Star Trek game of their own, it's gotten me thinking of other settings that would be ripe for a D&D-style campaign.
It's worth noting that some of these settings have official, or at least unofficial, roleplaying games of their own. They're difficult to find, however, or the mechanics aren't really to everyone's taste. And some are just difficult or impossible to find.
This isn't about the particular structure, mind you. It's just a series of settings whose flavour would be ripe for storytelling. If you've played some of these systems, or know of other fan creations that are perfectly suited, let us know in the comments!
For the uninitiated, Babylon 5 is a space station run by humans that serves as a hub for various factions, trading and diplomacy in neutral territory. It's a perfect setting for a sci-fi sitcom, with all sorts of tensions between the races as they work their way through the aftermath of a recent war.
It's interesting rewatching Babylon 5 today, as a series that heavily relied on a ton of CGI effects to paper over the show's low budget. Those haven't aged especially well, which wasn't helped by issues where the series was shot in the older 1.78:1 widescreen format and cropped to 4:3, the standard at the time, but never properly remastered to 16:9. Engadget has a fantastic writeup on the complications behind it all.
That aside, the concept of managing a space station and the diplomacy of that all is fantastic fodder for D&D-style storytelling. An official RPG was released by Mongoose Publishing in 2003, the makers of the Judge Dredd RPG and the Starship Troopers RPG. It's not a fantastic translation though, with some of the mechanics and the general flavour translating over poorly (why would Minbaris have -2 CHA if diplomats were their favoured class?).
There are a ton of characters and settings that could make for great fodder, either for a longer campaign or even just as a one-shot scenario. You could even wrap up some of the ship combat into the campaign, although the diplomatic intricacies of the series seem perfect for such a setting.
Avatar: The Last Airbender
I don't know what fantasy system you'd use for Avatar, although I've seen some suggestions that Misspent Youth sci-fi setting or the Fate RPG system is well suited. There's even an RPG that was directly inspired by Avatar, Legend of the Elements, which was successfully kickstarted a few years ago, although I've not heard much about what that's like as an experience.
Irrespective of the system or mechanics, it's a prime world set for an RPG. The TV series showcases characters with specialities that develop and evolve over time (a classic RPG trope) while running into all kinds of moral and tactical dilemmas (also perfect for RPGs). Couple that with the fact that Avatar has a strong case for being one of the best shows ever released, with a world ripe for exploration.
When people talk about the current golden age of TV, they're usually referring to big, serious dramas like Breaking Bad or The Wire. I am here today to tell you that Avatar: The Last Airbender, an animated show about a group of magical kids who ride around on a flying buffalo, deserves to be counted among them.
It wasn't until recently that someone told me that MASHED: A Korean War MASH RPG was an actual thing, which immediately made me sad that I'd missed out on backing it. M*A*S*H is still one of those TV shows that I could watch back to back today: great characters, great writing, humans struggling through grim scenarios, an environment that's natural fodder for diplomacy and conflict, and plenty of natural occurrences that lend itself perfectly to dice rolls or D&D RNG. (You can get a PDF version of the book here for $US15, though.)
The unofficial MASH RPG is based off the Apocalypse World engine, with players required to manage their stress levels. Surgical scenes are a part of MASHED, but a very small one, which seems a shame given the tension of emergencies - that's the nature of a field hospital, after all - dictate much of the 4077th MASH's operations, on a structural and a personal level.
Even with another system, M*A*S*H would be an outstanding setting for a one-shot campaign over three or four hours, or even a couple of sessions.
The set of a bumbling police procedural would make for a great adaptation for a board game or a light-hearted campaign. I can imagine an end state where enough bumbling failures would eventually result in the precinct's budget getting cut and one or more of the characters fired or transferred. Players would have to juggle investigations and solve cases not through sheer skill, but by managing the amount of inevitable cock-ups and the particular personality traits of Jake, Rosa, Amy, Charles, and so on.
One of the earlier Microprose games, Hyperspeed was a simple space epic where players venture out in a single starship to discover a habitable planet in a limited amount of time. There's ship upgrades, diplomacy with other races and a bit of trading.
As far as MicroProse games go - or even space trader games - it's far from the most exciting. Elite did more for the genre, and Wing Commander was more ambitious and enjoyable on almost every conceivable level. But I remember it fondly as a kid, because my Mum cheekily brought it back from Singapore in a box full of pirated floppy disks that she found ... somewhere. (They still have the box at home.)
You love the things you grow up with, I guess. But the general idea of exploring space for a habitable environment with a set time limit gives players a great natural tension point. Whether that's better suited for a lengthy campaign - one that potentially spans factoring in the impacts of the choices you made pre-colonisation - or a shorter session where colonisation is the end I'm not sure.
Thematically, there's not a huge amount of difference here from, say, a Star Trek RPG. If you wanted to advance the world forward a bit, building out the universe where players are searching for a second colonisable world, even the base systems used for The Expanse RPG could be adapted quite well. Both of those, however, are less about wrangling a bucket of bolts that's about to fall apart at any moment and more finding versatile solutions as they navigate their way through complicated political environments.
In short, Hyperspeed is a little more on the FTL side of things. Sure, you're not being chased by a giant Rebel Flagship, but you are on a clock all the same. A lot of space RPGs also don't tend to do space combat - or maintenance - as well as their board game variants, so I feel like there's a good roleplaying opportunity there. There's a lot of stress in running out of fuel, y'know.
Monster Hunter: World
When you think of hunting monsters in a campaign format, Kingdom Death: Monster immediately comes to mind. A crucial difference in tone and approach, however, is that KDM is more about setting up warriors and a settlement for survival. The monsters will wipe you off the face of the planet. It's not really about hunting as much as it is stopping a giant beast from eradicating your entire bloodline from the face of the planet.
Not really the same spirit as the Monster Hunter series, then. A lot of other monster-style hunter RPGs I've seen have also been a little more focused on the supernatural: you're hunting down Bigfoot, or the forces of darkness hiding beneath the surface of our monotonous, ordinary mundane lives. You could retrofit an existing system to work, though.
The general idea I've got would be this. A Monster Hunter RPG, almost like The Expanse or an RPG based around Sherlock Holmes, would have a heavy investigative and tracking element. The combat could probably be adapted from most D&D systems as is, maybe even the new Pathfinder, where players have particular classes with a certain set of skills. A grid-based system for positioning and attacks would work just fine, and the GM could very easily talk players through the transition of battlegrounds while people make ability checks to follow the beast around.
The kicker is that I'm not entirely sure what the natural end point of a tabletop game like this would be. Do you run with the original MHW plot and essentially go for a Kingdom Death style scenario, where the death of Zorah Magdaros could result in the doom of the entire world? That could still be a lot of fun. The idea of a researcher supporting the New World that generates new threats depending on the path your research takes (what beasts do you go after) could be neat narratively, too.
No Man's Sky
The basic idea of humans trying to reach the centre of the universe is ripe for player adventure. A key difference with something built around No Man's Sky as opposed to other RPGs already set in space, like Star Wars and so forth, would be the scouring for resources to continually press forward.
Perhaps a simpler comparison would be Out There, a mobile game compared often to FTL for its roguelike nature and resource management mechanics. I don't know that Out There would have enough alien interaction to keep players engaged over multiple sessions - it depends on whether your roleplaying group prefers sandboxes or more guided adventures.
But think about it from the perspective of the GM. You've got a platform where people have to level up items over time, giant creatures, other factions, procedural space combat, and the Atlas cosmic entities as a blank slate to manipulate. The end of NMS's story works well for tabletop campaigns too, giving players a choice to debate over while offering a potential launchpad for future sessions.
For people who want that kind of exploration/scavenging flavour, but in a different setting, using Subnautica could be a nice alternative. You could set the players up as a group of survivors searching for the Neptune Escape Rocket to leave the planet - an easy goal to communicate and understand.
Most of your time in Subnautica is spent deciding whether to listen to your curiosity or your terror. It's a tough choice.
Bonus setting: Mortal Kombat's Outworld
A campaign set in Mortal Kombat’s Outworld would be off the bloody chain spear. @dippizuka
— Gory the Spookminer (@TheSaltminer) December 4, 2018
Absolute genius. Sign me up, sir.
So those are seven settings - some from games, some from elsewhere - that I'd love to play a tabletop/D&D style campaign in one day. What about yourselves - what settings would you like to get the tabletop treatment?