Some of the most fun that I’ve ever had as a GM was creating that down-elevator sensation in the stomach-pits of my players by taking an idea derived from one genre and importing it into another.
It’s not easy to do well, but I’ve figured out at least some of the ground rules to success, and today I’m going to share them with my readers.
There are eight steps to the process that I use:
- Reduce the inspiration to its core
- Reinterpret the inspiration core into a third genre
- Connect the reinterpretation with your primary genre
- Rebuild the rest of the source around the primary genre version
- Challenge the players conceptually
- Challenge the characters actually
- Connect the dots.
Following these steps may not guarantee that your combination works, but not doing so greatly increases the risk that your two big ideas – the campaign and the imported content – will collide and fly apart in disarray.
So let’s go through them in detail:
1. Reduce the inspiration to its core
So you’ve got this adventure module or game sourcebook or whatever that’s written for an entirely different game system, in an entirely different genre, that you think would be a fun fit for your campaign if you can just manage to pull it off.
There are two things that I can guarantee: You’re going to have to throw a lot of it away and you’re going to have to change a lot of what’s left to a greater or lesser extent.
To make a cross-genre infusion work, you need to strip away all the trimmings that have been built up around the idea to leave only the core, and then put them back, changed as necessary, one bit at a time, around an interpretation of that core that sits comfortably in your existing genre.
Take a D&D Module. You have the central premise – sometimes expressed in the cover blurb or introduction, sometimes not stated explicitly at all. You have a plot that is supposed to be an expression of that central idea, and that plot is enfolded into a series of encounters and challenges. There is also a whole heap of incidental content that wraps that plot and its constituent encounters and challenges in game mechanics and the trappings that come with the genre of the game that it is designed to plug into. You will probably have a map, and you will have slabs of color text and a number of hopefully interesting locations in which those encounters and challenges can take place.
If you’re running a game using a different set of mechanics but within the same genre, you only need to translate explicit mechanics and perhaps tweak some of the environmental assumptions to fit. Running a D&D adventure module using Pathfinder, or any other fantasy game, is not all that difficult.
But if I want to take that adventure and run it in a superhero campaign, as I did years ago with The Ghost Tower of Inverness and Danger at Dunwater, it’s not going to be so easy. Most of the encounters make no sense out of a fantasy context. Ditto most of the challenges. Certainly the rewards are irrelevant. The gamy dynamics are also different; there is an urgency in a superhero situation that doesn’t apply to most D&D modules – this adventure needed to be concluded in two or three game sessions of about 5 hours playing time. The campaign setting is also in a relatively modern-day time period; between that and the superheroes abilities (radically different and far more powerful than those of the typical D&D character) would mandate a hunk of reinvention, as well.
So the first thing you need to do is to identify the content that you have to incorporate. That might be the plot, it might be an encounter, it might be some color text, but it’s most likely to be the core premise or concept of the adventure. But whatever it is, the first step is to identify it and set everything else aside.
Its’ essential to be as ruthless as possible in this culling of content. Every component, every paragraph that gets retained at this point adds to the workload and the danger of later complications, though it’s not easy to explain why, though it’s clear to me. The clearest explanation that I can offer is by analogy.
The process of incorporating non-genre material into is akin to taking a jigsaw puzzle and rearranging the pieces to form a different picture by re-cutting the existing pieces and replacing some of them, building the new picture around a single “piece” that is virtually unchanged from the original image (which may in fact be several inter-related pieces). While you can trim a little bit around the edges, the actual image content has to remain unchanged.
The more complicated the shape of that ‘central piece’, the harder the task of creating the new image seamlessly becomes. This is the single most important piece of the new image; everything that is not critically vital must be trimmed away.
I’m afraid that’s about as clearly as I can explain it.
2. Reinterpret the inspiration core into a third genre
So here’s the first curve-ball, one that most people won’t have been expecting. What I’ve learned the hard way is that placing the core material into a new context that is neither the original genre nor the ultimate destination genre brings a number of unexpected benefits.
Perhaps the biggest is that it translates the core idea into a form that is more malleable. Consider that if you were to translate your retained content directly into your target genre and encountered a problem of internal logic, or a contradiction between adventure assumptions and established campaign “reality”, having trimmed and reshaped the puzzle piece that you’re keeping as your starting point – you would have no choice but to either throw away everything you’ve done already, or to abandon the idea entirely – or try and wallpaper over the hole and hope none of your players put their foot through the weak spot!
None of those options are particular attractive or conducive to success or efficiency, and GMs have to work efficiently because there is never enough time to do everything that we would like. The old woodworking adage applies, if only as a proverb: “Measure twice and cut once”.
Having made a big song-and-dance about keeping the central premise unchanged, it might appear that I’m now contradicting myself, but that “song-and-dance” is only valid within the analogy explaining why you should trim the idea down to its barest, most essential, minimum. In fact, I didn’t want to include the analogy – the first draft of this article didn’t include it – but it was the only way I could find to explain that principle. The alternative would have been to issue blanket directives – do this, do that, don’t do this third thing – without explanation, and I consider that unacceptable. If I don’t explain why I’m doing something, you can’t modify the process to suit your own needs.
By translating the core of what you’re adapting into a third genre, you are shedding any remaining assumptions that might trip you up and placing the core into a new context as an intermediate stage. “Danger At Dunwater”, for example, I translated into the genre of a political/spy thriller, with the Lizardmen recast as Russians who felt they had been attacked and were debating how to respond. There were multiple factions, each with their own agendas, and none of them were quite who they seemed to be. That was the core premise, post- translation into the interim genre.
The other big gain from this step of the process is that a fragmented concept – which you may be working with, if there is no explicit statement provided – becomes unified in the process. This makes it much easier to work with in subsequent steps.
There are other benefits as well, relating to mindset and how you perceive that central core. By defining – actually, redefining – the central idea, you are thinking about how it will eventually translate into your target genre from this intermediate stage. This works by distancing the concept from the source material, and ultimately makes it easier to import and translate the rest of the content that’s salvageable from that source material.
Selection of intermediate genre
To be successful, the genre that you use has to be one that fits reasonably comfortably within the confines of your ultimate target genre. If I were translating a science fiction adventure such as the Star Frontiers adventure Bugs In The System (available as a free PDF if you click the link) into a superheroic space opera – which I did for the Warcry campaign – I would not use Fantasy as an intermediate genre, because Fantasy is not an easy fit. Instead, did something a little more complicated, dividing the adventure up into three parts and then interpreting one part based on the movie “Alien”, one part based on Babylon-5, and one part based on Star Wars. But I could only be that specific because the genres were already a close match.
It’s essential that the intermediate genre be one that fits comfortably within your primary genre, while also not being too far removed from the original genre.
That can be quite a challenging prescription to fill. Sometimes you have no choice but to treat another source as though it were a genre unto itself, a medium for which you are adapting the source material, just as I did Bugs In The System.
As a long-time viewer of Dr Who, I can add that the TV series (which I have watched since the late 1960s/early 1970s) is a masterclass in this sort of adaption. Study it :)
3. Connect the reinterpretation with your primary genre
Having translated the core concept into a genre that will fit reasonably comfortably within our target genre, the next step is to do just that. That essentially involves applying any genre conventions that might be necessary, adapting the concept to fit the game world, etc. This should not take very long, but it’s important that it be done with care and thought, and with the intention that your PCs will be the ones trying to resolve the situation (whatever it is). Complications should come from who they are, problems and road blocks may need to be inserted to prevent an immediate solution, etc. In particular, it means creating any supporting material/content that is not going to come from the original.
In order to fulfill that last item of the brief, it is necessary to actually plan – at least in general terms – the next step. It might even seem that step 4 should precede step 3. There are good reasons why that’s not the case.
The next stage will translate the source material so that it connects with the revised core in the context of the campaign. Doing so now would leave holes to be filled, and it’s a lot harder creating content with a very specific “shape” to fit in those holes. It’s a lot easier if you do the new work first, making sure that IT is a snug “fit”, and use that to define the specifics of the next step.
In fact, that’s a general principle that’s worth highlighting even if it’s the only take-away from this article: It’s almost always easier to do whatever you need to do now if you’ve already given thought to what you need to do next.
Let’s look at Danger At Dunwater (and how I adapted it) once again, in order to illustrate what I mean and explain the process a little more clearly.
While the society of the enemy was to be loosely modeled on Cold-war Stalinist Russia (and I had made some notes on what that specific modeling would look like), and the core of the plotline was to derive from the D&D module, I didn’t know that much more about the situation. While I could start trying to translate more bits from the source material ad-hoc and off the top of my head, at the moment I didn’t have any specifications on what to translate that content to within the adapted adventure. So the right approach is to plan that, and then fill in anything necessary before actually doing that translation.
Lizardmen don’t make sense within the campaign world; I needed to give the population a reason to have stayed hidden all this time, especially since I needed a human community nearby. So they will need adaption. Most of the encounters would be trivially simple for the PCs to overcome by force – so they need to be either beefed up, which would undercut the need for secrecy, or I would need to scrap most if not all of them. It’s not the threat to the PCs that matters in a superhero adventure, it’s the threat posed to ordinary people. The trigger condition that sets events in motion described within the module also falls apart if the hidden population are to have been a hidden threat for a long time, so I will need a different justification for the situation – one that I will need to create. Most of the encounters through which the plot unfolds are also inappropriate and more like a dungeon crawl; since I need to accelerate the plotline three or four-fold (maybe more), scrapping those encounters would also help achieve this goal. And finally, I would need to work out who the factions were, what they really wanted, what attitude they were pretending to have, and why.
That’s got the basic outline of the next step planned – adapting what of the original source still fits – and in the process, it has defined what I need to do in this stage: a replacement for the Lizardmen, a replacement for the trigger that causes the plot to start, and a replacement plot to reveal the situation to the PCs. Finally, I always make sure that for any problem (especially one on this scale, i.e. a diplomatic problem that poses a significant threat that the PCs will feel the need to address) has at least one solution, on the principle that where there’s one solution there will be more than one – how the PCs actually solve the problem, and what the consequences will be, is up to them. Once I know that there’s at least one way out of whatever mess I’m putting them into, I can be an unbiased umpire, dealing with PC plans and situations on their merits. It’s one of my ways of avoiding railroading within my campaigns.
- Lizardmen: In the superhero genre, its perfectly plausible for Atlantis to have been real (both DC and Marvel have at least one version of it, each). The PCs even found some underwater ruins at one point that they thought might have been it, but there were absolutely no bodily remains, and the ruins had been stripped of anything even semi-portable (a high-tech weapon had been overlooked that was found by a bad guy and used to create a brief spell of havoc for the PCs to deal with). This had been left as an unsolved mystery for years, waiting until I found a good solution. If the Atlanteans had used their science to become lizard-like water-breathers, and abandoned the ruins for fear of a repeat performance by the earthquake/volcanic eruption that had already done them in, ultimately settling in a deep lake somewhere (so that there was a human community nearby to be threatened by them), that would supply replacements. This also means that anything magical would need to be translated into higher technology, another item to add to the plans for Stage 4.
- The Lizardmen described are primitives, almost barbarian tribesmen; that doesn’t jibe with the high-tech. Unless of course, the loss of so many citizens in the disaster and subsequent migration had devastated their civilization – so they had the tech, and used the tech, but didn’t know how or why it worked, just that it did.
- That gave me the potential solution to the whole problem that I was looking for: if the PCs can demonstrate that they DO understand the technology, at least in broad principle, they would automatically be elevated in the eyes of the Atlanteans and could negotiate a peace in return for educational assistance and eventual alliance.
- The shortage of numbers works for explaining why they need to stay hidden. But why haven’t their numbers grown, since? Perhaps they suffer from radiation damage as a legacy of the accident that greatly increases the rate of infertility? The PCs had access to medical technology that could mitigate or even undo that – another reasonable foundation for a peace treaty.
- The factions:
- the Priests would be directly threatened by either of these bargaining chips, but be bound by religious dogma that accepts the PCs as agents of The Gods in the eyes of the populace (and especially the throne). Base them on the KGB. That’s faction #1.
- Faction #2 would be the military, who would demand retribution for whatever sparks the whole mess off, or reparations at the very least – but who are both proud and honorable, so this appearance of hostility is not fully heartfelt, or at least can be overcome.
- For faction #3, we have the “Noble Rulers” of the Atlanteans, who would welcome the PCs with open arms (because the populace demand it) but be very stiff-necked when it came to sovereignty, almost xenophobic about the Atlantean culture being overwhelmed by these strangers from the surface world, and paranoid about their existence being revealed. To spice things up, let’s also state that they are chafing under the influence of the Priests.
- Finally, as a fourth faction, some group of lesser nobles who see this as an opportunity to assassinate the King and cast blame on the PCs; they have wanted to make such a move for a long time, but so obviously would be the only ones to gain that they would immediately be suspect. Using the PCs as cats-paws finally gives them the opportunity to make their move. Again to make things interesting, lets’ suggest that they are young, ambitious, impatient – and far more progressive than the current rulers.
So, a hidden enemy who is overtly friendly, a hidden potential ally who is overtly hostile, a second hidden enemy that are overtly neutral but open, and some ambitious types who are secretly hostile to everyone but who the PCs would be able to befriend despite that hostility.
- The main points of the plot are also beginning to take shape: Incident, Reprisal, PCs Make Contact, Begin Diplomacy, Establish Factions, Attempted Assassination of a PC, Attempted Assassination of the Rulers, PCs blamed, Prove their innocence (getting the Military and Nobility on side but making the priests overtly hostile, Conclude Diplomatic Negotiations, sign Treaty.
- That leaves only the triggering incident, which was where the one moment of genuine out-of-the-blue inspiration in this particular project arrived. Why not make the body of water Loch Ness, why not make Nessie a pseudo-biological submarine used by the Atlanteans as a diversion when humans came too close to their hidden habitat? I had an impression (vague now, in terms of source) that sightings were clustered around one end of the Loch, and also remembered hearing something about a controversial American plan to “force” Nessie to the surface by systematically dropping small “depth charges” starting at the end of the Loch where sightings were infrequent and working back. From what i recall, the proposal was quite rightly blocked by the Scottish, but what if (in my game world) he had gone ahead without getting permission? The Atlanteans would not be seriously hurt, but would have to wonder if they had been discovered, and could quite legitimately view this as an attack directed against them. The fact that this would be an illegal act by the monster-hunter would not reduce the fact that it could also be viewed as a diplomatic incident at best and an act of war at worst…
Notice how one piece of the adventure after another seems to fall into place? Those seven pieces of the plot provide the framework around which components of the original source material can now be fitted into place – key NPCs, personalities, bits of flavor text, capabilities, maps, etc.
4. Rebuild the rest of the source around the primary genre version
So that’s the next step – fitting as much “existing content” as possible into the new context, and then completing a more detailed writeup of the plot outlines. In fact, only one thing was missing – a hook to bring the PCs into the plot, something that was overlooked when listing the work to be done. On the basis of what had been decided, though, that’s not too difficult: The Military Faction take it on themselves to mount a raid in response. A remote Scottish township being attacked by lizard-like mermen, prisoners being taken for interrogation and intelligence-gathering purposes, more than enough reason to call for help, and more than exotic enough to get the PCs involved.
I’ve actually already described what happens in this stage in earlier sections, simply to place those earlier sections in context, so there’s no real need to go into it again. So let’s move on.
5. Challenge the players conceptually
No adaption is ever perfect. Stages 5 and 6 have two goals: first, they serve as defenses against the flaws being exploited, and second, with stage 7, they justify the effort of adapting the out-of-genre material to your own needs rather than creating your own adventure from scratch (in-genre source materials need rather less justification).
By incorporating a conceptual challenge, something that’s difficult to grasp, into the translated material, you leave open the question of whether or not a flaw in the translation and integration into the campaign is your mistake or simply a part of this intellectual challenge that the players aren’t quite “getting”. This encourages the players to come up with their own solutions to explain the flaw, which the GM can then appropriate, complimenting them on their success at grasping a subtle nuance of “what he had planned” (and rewarding them appropriately).
There is a secondary effect, which yields the second benefit listed above: by definition, a conceptual challenge makes the game world a broader and richer. In effect, the incorporation of the non-genre resource as a part of the campaign enlarges the campaign to fit.
For the “Danger At Dunwater” adaption, I was never completely happy with the destruction of Atlantis; while plausible, it simply seemed more catastrophic than any other event in the Mediterranean region this side of Pompeii. What’s more, making the Atlanteans high-tech raises the question of how they could be so totally taken unawares, and why they were unable to rescue the populace – why had they needed to take the drastic step of re-engineering themselves?
‘Well,’ I thought, ‘if that’s an conceptual challenge for me, it should work equally well for the players!’ – so that’s what I used to fulfill this part of the recipe.
There have been a few times where I have adapted material and neglected to include a conceptual challenge. The results have always been lukewarm rather than exciting, and predictable instead of challenging, and always left me with the feeling that the effort of the adaption was not justified by the results.
That brings up another general truism:
“Game Prep expands to fill the time available, plus 20%.”
As a general principle, this is gospel. Don’t expect to spend any less time because you’re basing things on a third=party resource; just expect to spend that time doing things differently to your usual practices.
I took a closer look at the differences between creating a bespoke adventure and using a published adventure in an article published in January 2014 here at Campaign Mastery, To Module Or Not?. It’s relatively short (for a Campaign Mastery article). so take a look if you want more of my thoughts on the subject.
6. Challenge the characters actually
Whatever the PCs have to overcome in order to navigate the incorporated material, it has to challenge more than their players’ ability to talk in character. The difficulties to be overcome have to be difficult enough to pose some sort of challenge to the characters.
Sometimes that’s easy – even too easy. Sometimes it’s difficult. It’s a near-certainty that an imported resource will either pitch too hard or too soft for your campaign – the likelihood of being “exactly right” is vanishingly small. Either way, this can pose significant challenges to the GM doing the translation from one game system / genre to another.
Pitched too soft
This is the case with which I am most familiar, because a lot of my adaption has been for my superhero campaign, and superheroes tend to be the most personally capable of PCs compared to any other genre. Take Iron Man – can you picture him popping up in just about any non-superhero movie and not being a match for the biggest bad, if not overwhelming?
- Iron Man in “Alien” – no contest.
- Iron Man in “Pirates Of The Caribbean” – no contest. Okay, maybe Davey Jones and the Kraken. But the East India Company? Rescuing Elizabeth from the Black Pearl?
- Iron Man in “The Lord Of The Rings” – Sauron, and the Balrog, might be fair fights. No-one else stands a chance.
- Iron Man in “Star Wars” – Darth Vader is hopelessly outmatched. Iron Man might not be able to defeat the entire Empire simply because it’s so large and has so many potential hostages.
- Iron Man in “Independence Day” – if Stark can’t get through the force fields of the enemy ships, he is quite capable of devising the computer virus and uploading it. Once that happens, he becomes a one-man air force, more than a match for the big saucers, never mind the small ones.
- Iron Man in “Armageddon” – the asteroid is toast, all they need to do is get him into orbit. The same goes for just about any disaster movie you can think of.
- Iron Man in “The Hunger Games” – who needs a partner? Oh, all right, just don’t get in the way…
…the list goes on and on. Sure, some of these fights might be very exciting to watch, but the outcome of most is pretty much inevitable. It’s the human challenges that would pose the most difficulty, simply because Tony Stark is only human; if superior armament won’t solve the problem, the challenge is just as great.
The problem is that scaling up the enemy capabilities to match can create insurmountable logical problems. It won’t always happen, but it’s something you need to be wary of. There aren’t many James Bond adventures that a party of competent D&D adventurers wouldn’t breeze through relatively easily simply because they have capabilities that the opposition can’t match.
A concrete example arises in the “Danger at Dunwater” adaption – the Atlanteans can’t pose a significant threat to the PCs, because if they were that powerful there would be no reason for them to have stayed hidden; they would have conquered Scotland, if not all of the UK, long ago. They need to be just powerful enough to pose a threat to ordinary people, and just vulnerable enough for ordinary people to pose a threat to them – and that means that they pose no significant challenge to most of the PCs in terms of outright combat capabilities. To ensure that there is sufficient challenge, then, I needed to set up a situation in which the PCs superior combat abilities were not going to solve the problem. This was achieved by having the targets of the violence be people other than the PCs – either the town, the citizens of Scotland, or other Atlanteans. Challenges needed to be skill based and strategic.
“Danger At Dunwater”, as adapted by me back in the late 1990s, assumes that the PCs are superior, and that this fact won’t actually help them solve the problem. That means that it could be dropped into a Star Trek campaign, or a Star Wars campaign, or a Dr Who campaign, with mostly cosmetic changes. The problems are human ones.
Pitched too hard
It can be just as tricky to manage challenges that are pitched too high for your PCs to hope to succeed, because there are only two solutions: giving the PCs an advantage to compensate, or making the challenges easier.
The first is another step on the path that leads to Monty Haul syndrome; something to be avoided at all costs. Which leaves only the second, but that can raise problems of logical inconsistency if that means that the NPCs no longer have the capabilities to do what they have (historically) done or pose the threat that they are supposed to represent. Weakening the challenge by making the NPCs more vulnerable risks undermining the whole premise of the source material.
The best solution that I’ve found is to monkey with the capabilities of the NPCs so that they have an advantage that can be made unusable by anyone if the PCs do the right thing. This transforms the problem into a challenge that the PCs can solve. Sometimes this means incorporating a vulnerability that the NPCs don’t know about because the PCs have come from a different environment or background; sometimes it means basing their advantage on a piece of external technology that can be damaged or sabotaged; sometimes it means finding a way for the NPCs to be bluffing about their true capabilities, something that may or may not be the case historically. And sometimes it means that they had capabilities and lost them. Or perhaps there is some transient effect that will eventually wear off, and the solution is for the PCs to learn this fact – and then stall, for all they are worth.
The most difficult challenge
Quite often, adapting the challenges to an appropriate standard is the single most-difficult challenge in adapting an idea from one genre to another. You can mitigate against that to some extent by choosing source material of reasonably appropriate difficulty – level-based games, as source material, make this relatively easy. James Bond and Sherlock Holmes power levels? Around 3rd-to-5th level on the D&D / Pathfinder scale. Steampunk and Cthulhu? 5th-8th level. Relatively weak superheros, 8th-to-10th level. Experienced superheros, 10th-14th level. “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”? Anything from 14th up to, and including, 20th level. As a general rule of thumb, the higher up the scale, the more difficult a challenge it will pose – so an adventure for characters around 14th level will pose a serious challenge for experienced superheroes.
These are only guidelines, of course; there will be exceptions. “Danger At Dunwater” posed a reasonable challenge for experienced superheroes because I was able to make it not about combat capabilities but about the internal politics of the Atlanteans – a human problem that transcends character levels. Even so, I was forced to boost the Atlanteans capabilities beyond those of their apparent technological expertise; fortunately, that was always the intention, because I had seen this problem coming. Another example of the general principle I enunciated earlier!
The bigger picture
But the combat capabilities situation is only the most obvious representation of a bigger problem. Whatever the challenges are that have to be overcome in order to complete an adventure, they have to be hard enough to challenge your PCs, and not so hard that your PCs can’t solve them, eventually. While you can sometimes incorporate the challenges from the original source material, perhaps after some tweaking, more often than not, you will have to completely replace them. This is so important that it’s been placed in a separate stage of the process.
7. Connect the dots
One of the hallmarks of most imported source material is that it tends to stand alone in glorious isolation from the rest of your campaign. The more poorly it has been adapted and incorporated, the more superficial it feels.
I’ve always been especially sensitive to this because of my background as a comics reader; whenever you got a “fill-in” issue, the only thing you could be fairly sure of is that it wouldn’t do anything significant to the continuity. There was a period when this was a defining characteristic of Marvel’s team up books in particular, something that was thrown into sharp relief by the Chris Claremont / John Byrne stint on Marvel Team-up (which united Spider-man and a different guest hero each month), because the creative team (starting with Issue #59) were not afraid to make substantial continuity-impacting changes, starting with a big power-up to The Wasp, which started the character down a development path that eventually led to her gaining so much credibility as a member of the Avengers that she became the team’s leader for a substantial period.
My response to that is to impose this seventh stage on the procedure for adapting an out-of-genre “fill-in” source: connecting the adapted work to the main campaign continuity at all possible points.
Let’s continue looking at the adaption of “Danger at Dunwater” by way of illustration of the principle. A little while back, I made mention of my dissatisfaction with the notion of a high-tech Atlantean civilization being wiped out by a natural disaster that seemed out of scale with just about everything else that had ever happened in the region. Even Pompeii – if the Romans had known enough about vulcanology, they would have recognized the danger posed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and they had enough time to evacuate the town. So it makes no sense for a natural disaster to have wiped out Atlantis so dramatically.
The keyword there is Natural Disaster. In my campaign continuity, though this wasn’t known to the players at the time, the Greek Gods had become the Roman gods when the latter civilization arose. They then succumbed to the same vices as the Roman Emperors. If the Atlanteans had succumbed to Hubris and challenged the Greek Gods with the intention of supplanting them and seizing Ultimate Power (a very supervillain-ish thing to do), the Gods could have smacked them down, Hard. This adventure was my first opportunity to make the players realize that the Greco-Roman deities were “real” – groundwork for their eventual appearance in the campaign as Villains, seeking to meddle in Ragnerok for their own “gain” (they wanted to harness its power to end their own existences, destroying earth as an incidental byproduct). Ultimately, this got into the big questions of who Deities are within the campaign cosmology and other such existential issues. Furthermore, knowing that Ragnerok was coming within the campaign, I planned to sink a substantial landmass (I had three choices: Japan, California, and Indonesia. Ultimately, I went with Japan) but wanted the majority of inhabitants to be saved by transformation into mermen; this adventure allowed me to lay the groundwork for that transformation. Finally, in the form of “lost Atlantean technology”, it gave me another mechanism for future threats and allies to arise – I haven’t used that particular one yet, but it’s still up my sleeve for when I need it.
That’s easily as great a level of campaign significance as any other adventure, and amply justifies the effort of adapting this particular source material.
Your effort to “connect the dots” has to be comprehensive.
- If the source material has a backstory, that backstory has to connect with established campaign history. The bare minimum is compatibility. Ideally, you want to expand the background to incorporate something new.
- The source material should add to the richness and diversity of the contemporary campaign. There should always be some consequence going forward as a milestone to say “this happened”.
- The source material should provide some potential for future plotlines within the campaign, either as complications that weren’t there previously, or as springboards for new adventures.
That’s past, present, and future. Your adaption needs to connect in all three.
The bottom line
Done well, an adaption justifies itself, representing a collaboration between the original authors and the adapter. Done poorly, it can be a creative millstone. Most of the time, though, it’s just done passably-well, injected into the campaign because it looks like being fun. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that as a motivation; but it’s also not an excuse for not doing it as capably as you can. I’ve shown you how I do it; the rest is up to you.