Less Insanity in Your Mashup

Posted: May 14, 2015 in DM Tips, RPGs
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I’ve spoken previously about mashing up RPGs, and playing different systems simultaneously at the table.  I continue to think that this would be doable.

However, a more typical mashup involves smooshing two or more fandoms into one (hopefully) glorious tub of squishy fun. For example, you might play Shadowrun but the game will be “Let’s combine Doctor Who with Django Unchained”.  After some appropriate head scratching, your troupe shouts ‘Hooray, our dreams finally come true!”  \o/

How does this work?

Why do people ask me these questions, do I look like I have answers? I guess that through immersion the imagination simulates proximity to celebrities which excites the hypocampus, resulting in a brief, repeatable flood of… Sorry?  Oh, the RPG side of it.

So how it works is that you need to decide how the game will progress.  There are some options.

1) Put characters from fandom A into story and plot of fandom B. That is, your players are the four iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they are confronted with the story and NPCs (non-player characters) from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

2) Put characters from fandom A into the story and plot in the style of fandom B.  That is, your players are the girls from Little Women, but they are playing in a WW2 epic inspired by, but different from, Saving Private Ryan.

3) Put characters inspired from fandom A into the story and plot in the style of fandom B.  That is, you might have the players play part of a wild west space gang inspired by Firefly, but they are playing in a story similar to, but not the same as, Moulin Rouge.  Wait, maybe that was an actual episode of Firefly.

4) For completeness, let’s add “Put characters inspired from fandom A into the story and plot of fandom B.”  That is, maybe you have a trio inspired by the core of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and your going to set them in the story Alien Resurrection, maybe as a different band of mercenaries that land on the xenomorph research vessel.

No really, How Does It Work

The trick is that the players get a free pass to imitate beloved fictional characters, or even real life people for that matter, while paying tribute to another intellectual property. The game “What If” was even the basis of a comic series, where the artists and storyers were given license to mashup, such as “What If… The Punisher went to Riverdale?” (I have that comic, btw… pure figurative gold).

The hard part might be picking the RPG ruleset to use.  If the player characters have specific abilities, then the system should have an accessible way of arbitrating the use of those abilities, like gun rules if there are going to be guns, or starship combat rules if there is going to be space combat.

This isn’t necessary, however.  Most systems are expandable if you’re okay with thinking it through.  For example, my wife is a fan of the Eddings fantasy series The Belgariad, and decided that she would like to run an RPG in that world.  [While this isn’t strictly speaking a mashup, it serves for the example.]  It might seem straightforward to use one of the many D&D systems that we’ve played, or maybe the Dragon Age RPG rules.  Instead, she chose the (classic) World of Darkness, and this makes sense.  Why?  The game has a straightforward game mechanic – combine an attribute and a skill and you get a dice pool which you roll against a target difficulty – that is easy to use on the fly, without having to look up specific mechanics in a tome of arcane rules.  Second, the game is made for superpowers (vampires, werewolves, ghosts, faeries, mages, etc) but also for playing normal people as well, so you can easily mix in some special abilities, like Barak’s bear rage, or Ce’Nedra’s nymphness.  Third, the Merits & Flaws system gives you the ability to customize the players with some of Eddings races unique abilities – maybe Drasnians get a bonus die to social roles, etc.

Once you have chosen a ruleset, and the players have chosen characters, then you need to flesh out a story that achieves the desired mashup.  Think hard about what it is about the fandom that evokes the story, and lean hard on that.  Really hard.  For example, maybe the TV show Supernatural for you is really about the angst (dramatic poles shifting from familial love and outright distrust) between the main characters, and if so, then you really need to ensure that that emotional diametric is prevalent in the story.

That’s really it.  Don’t be afraid to be unsubtle; players (and GMs) love it when they recognize elements in a mashup, so feed it to them with a shovel.

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