Conversion of Media to RPG material

There are some really cool settings out there in books, shows, and movies. However, in my opinion, many people do not take enough time to convert the setting to the RPG medium, or even their group. For example, let’s say you wanted to start a game about the Matrix. While maybe for a one-shot you could simply drag and drop the setting into your game, for a campaign I believe for the setting to truly shine there needs to be some changes to it. The following would apply to just about any media you would wish to convert to an RPG medium:

  • Remove the main character(s).
  • Rewind to before the main character(s) intervened in the world.
  • Invent a new powder-keg.

I for one am not a fan of an NPC appearing from the media in the game. I believe it breaks immersion and its novelty wears off fast. Even if the NPC is in the background, especially if they’re the main character, I feel that there is a case to be made to remove them regardless because they could easily outshine the PCs, even in the background. For example, if Neo saves the day in the background, then that removes the opportunity for the PCs to do so, and would probably hurt the PCs story as they then have to deal with the fallout of what the main character did, not what the PCs did. In this way, I also feel that it is important to rewind before the main character even intervened, to prevent the PCs having to deal with fallout they themselves did not create.

A good story generally has some sort of powder-keg that the main character involves themselves with and shakes things up. This is where most of the work comes in for the GM. If the GM keeps the same powder-keg, it would be incredibly rail-roady to the players, since they know what the story in the media was, and might feel forced to explicitly go for or against it. So, some of the setting most likely needs to be rewritten to compensate. If there is no “chosen one” in the Matrix, then there should be some other way to save the day or have things majorly shift.

Is there anything else anyone would like to add, that they feel should be done to media to make it more RPG-like? Taking other people’s settings for a game is very near and dear to my heart, so I’d love to hear feedback.

As always, thanks for reading!


I’ve found the same issue. I’ve been running my RPGs in Earwa from R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing Trilogy.

Erased the main characters.
Rewound to the start.
But then it all goes back to wizards to a wizard’s ancient war and gods betraying humanity.

My current Torchbearer game is faring well with it but we keep edging closer to this god betrayal damnation story.

It seems to work for Pendragon, but the setup is kind of you as players being a kind of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz from “Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are Dead”. You have that as a buy-in for starting the game. You know some things will always happen. The challenge is perhaps a bit of ‘I know this will happen, I want to prepare for this’. I don’t know.

I think you can go the other way, too. Instead of making the game take place during the story of the original main characters, delete the main characters, and then mix the powder-keg up, you start the PCs story right after the original main characters have done their thing. As an example, during the opening months of the pandemic, I started a Roll20 homebrew Star Wars game. Instead of setting it during the original trilogy, I set it a few years after and began a new timeline from there.

So, in this case, the PCs were dealing with such things as the power vacuum created on Tatooine by Jabba’s death, the devastation to the Forest Moon of Endor caused by the destruction of the second Death Star, the early stumbling of the fledgling New Galactic Republic, as the former Rebels were quickly learning that it was in many ways easier to resist than govern, and the forming of the remnants of the Empire into something new.

Even though there were cameos from canon characters (I mostly stuck to really obscure characters like Col Takbright AKA “Fake Wedge”) and core characters from the original trilogy such as Luke and Leia (they both formed new Jedi schools but were primarily prominent NPCs), this story was really very much about the PCs.

I also made it clear to my players that this was their canon now, whatever they did, that was how things would go and any “future canon” (such as “The Mandalorian” series or any of the post-quel movies) was speculative and we were in no way bound to any of that.