The Rhetoric of Adaptation, part one


Between grad school, general life interfering, and working on Madicon, I just haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like to in the last few months. I’m going to try and post more often again, but I’m not making any promises – I’d hate to lie.

One thing I have been doing during this down period is spending a lot of time over at the Mutants and Masterminds forums. I’ve been posting builds to the Roll Call – mostly DC characters (because I’m just not happy with the official versions) – but also Astro City and original characters. It is an interesting task to adapt and model characters from comic books into game statistics. I’ve written before on the idea that ‘games as math’ is often why games don’t work for me. The adaptation of characters is an interesting place to look at this concept, as well as adaptation in a more general sense.

Point One: It’s all a matter of Opinion
While I suppose it is possible to build a set of stats for, say, Superman and have those stats make no sense to anyone who has ever read a Superman comic, I think most builds that are good faith efforts at reflecting a character are all equally valid. That is to say, my perception of the character and your perception of the character are going to differ – to some extent – and so we can argue all day what the values should be, but in the end, you like your Superman and I like mine and that’s all that matters.

Now, this is complicated somewhat when a build is “official.” When a build is published by a gaming company to say, “This is Superman in our system” then it becomes harder to deviate from the established baseline when discussing the build with other players. Because the official version sets the bar for future products and for how other characters are built around the mark set by that version.

This exists in any licensed product. Look at the old West End Games versions of the Star Wars characters, or even the versions presented by Wizards of the Coast. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Boba Fett? Who’s to say that the ‘official’ versions are the best versions? Well, in most cases, the official versions are well made and have passed approval by the licensee. In the case of DC Adventures, this would be DC Comics. Of course, I find myself asking – DC made the characters, but since the characters can’t stay consistent from writer to writer in comics, and since the corporate folk at DC probably only have a limited understanding of the game system – how does their approval really mean anything? For the fans, it’s still going to be a matter of opinion.

That said, once you have a clear image of the character you want to make in your head, once you feel that you know what version you want to stat out, how can you model their abilities? How do you translate a character from one medium to another? Well, I’ll start to explore that in Part Two, which I’ll try to have up Thursday.

As always, Thanks for reading.


2 responses

  1. The interesting thing is how varied the approach to adaptation is in the four big groups of rpgs. On the whole fantasy is really insular,adapted characters, when encountered, often come from sources that are themselves novelized adaptations of the game (D&D) or are characters from a different kind of game (Warhammer Fantasy), so a lot of adaptation issues don’t come up. Horror primarily directly adapts stuff from Lovecraft and the stats of elder terrors from other dimensions don’t really matter. Futuristic science fiction games try to use liscensed materials all the time, but the ones that have the most staying power tend to be games that are not direct tie ins to existing works. Superheroes tend to be the opposite way, direct tie in are the long lived ones (Mutants and Masterminds was an exception, until now). How adapted materials work is changing too; until very recently most games might have characters live in adapted settings and meet adapted characters, for the most part they held at arms length the idea of playing adapted characters (playing as superman or the Luke Skywalker). Now there are systems like Cortex that seem to assume that you are playing an existing character from the movies or television. I am not relly sure what to think of this approach, but it is an interesting development.

  2. I’ve noticed this trend too. Before recent times, I’d only seen this trend with some versions of the Marvel super-hero games. Even most DC versions assumed you’d make your own characters.

    That said, I figure it’s a pretty harmless trend. I think most players might enjoy this play experience for a while, but then will want to do it with their own characters…

    One interesting thing you mentioned though — characters like Drizz’t or Elminster in fantasy can inspire an equal fervor of debate about their abilities to that generated by any superhero.

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