Fiction is long a source of inspiration for role-playing games. “Dungeons and Dragons” simply does not exist without the juggernaut of Tolkien. Modern authors like George R. R. Martin provided inspiration for the “Song of Ice and Fire” RPG. There was even a “Dune” RPG attempt a few years ago. Clearly, fantasy and science-fiction books inspire game designers to new heights. That said, I think there are some book series that need games that lie forgotten on book shelves. Today I present my three top choices for book series that need role-playing games.
A mysterious “Ring of Fire” event shifts the 21st century town of Grantville, West Virginia to Germany in 1632. Right in the middle of the 30 years War. Great powers battle across the face of Europe seeking more land and influence. Famous historical figures like Cardinal Richeliu appear, trying to understand and exploit the new arrivals. On the Grantville side, modern sensibilities and technology throw the entire continent into uproar. Technology plays a key part in the changes (radio and modern weapons are powerful agents of change), but some philosophies, common to modern people but new to the world of 1632, drive even greater chaos. Women’s liberation is a particular shock, as is a fully operational democracy that accepts the basic tenet that all men are equal. This one does not go down well with royalty…
“1632” offers a variety of potential character classes, from modern soldiers and mechanics to 1632 scholars and priests. I chose to feature this book first because it allows for either a straight “action adventure” model or a more subtle political campaign. Baen, the series’ publisher also maintains a very useful forum called “Baen’s Bar” where people discuss political issues and technological solutions. It is an endless fountain of campaign ideas and very clever solutions to integrating modern technology with the obsolete to solve long-forgotten problems. If you have a clever game group that worships “MacGyver,” then this world is perfect!
The real historical figure General Belisarius, one of the great generals of the ancient world, inspires this series. Historically, Belisarius re-conquered much of the western Roman Empire for the Emperor Justinian. This series begins just before that campaign and introduces two elements from an alternate future; Link and Aide.
In this alternate future, powerful interests deploy agents through time, attempting to change the time line. One faction launches Link, a cybernetic organism capable of immense calculation and ruthlessness. It quickly assume control of the major empire in India, the Malwa. Using advanced technology (gunpowder, among other things), Link quickly gathers forces to conquer the world and take history down a very dark path.
As a counter-measure, another faction launches Aide into the past. Aide is a small gem containing an intelligence, but less of a machine than link and is nearly human in his outlook. Aide seeks out Belisarius because he is the most competent military leader of the age and enlists his help in destroying link. Mixing in some very capable fighters, honor-driven princes and lots of massive battles. Innumerable adventure hooks appear in every book and the PC classes range from Roman heavy cavalry to Malwa assassin. I am not usually an equipment whore, but Roman cavalry with cannon and muskets is just cool!
Asher’s Polity series is a transhuman universe of instantaneous interplanetary transport, advanced technology, brain-stealing aliens and effective immortality. One of my favorite groups is the “Cult of Osiris Arisen” that uses advanced cybernetics and some very powerful embalming fluid to give you an afterlife…of a sort. Nothing like living on in a memory chip inside your own decaying corpse for a few hundred years. And then there is a small world called “Spatterjay.” Everything on the planet is lethal, hungry and nearly unkillable. The “unkillable” part comes from a virus that infects everything on the planet and the humans of Spatterjay are no exception. The virus slowly replaces your tissue, granting great strength, regeneration and immortality. With these benefits, humans thrive on Spatterjay. There is just one tiny drawback. Uncontrolled viral growth changes your body to survive the current environment, regardless of your preferences. The picture below is of Spatterjay’s founder after not getting enough anti-viral meds.
Ick. Even worse, the virus keeps you alive even if you would prefer death. Nothing like being consumed endlessly by giant leaches or digested over a several week period in the gullet of a giant fish because the virus keeps regenerating you…
The Polity series is clearly a high action space opera with cyberpunk elements. That said, it has some great PC archetypes, equipment and lots of great villains. I highly recommend reading the series as inspiration for any RPG game, even if the official Polity game never comes out.
These are my ideas for books that need role-playing games. If you have any of your own suggestions, drop a comment and let me know.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer