Turn your Fantasy Novel into a RPG

Most Novembers, authors focus on dumping 50,000 words onto the page in one month, but this article is for those of you that want to try something different by turning your novel into a Role Playing Game. What better way to do it than by joining National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon) this coming November? “But it conflicts with NaNoWriMo,” you say. Have no fear because you can do both! It’s called being a NaNo Rebel, and it’s never too early to start.

RPG’s and novels go hand-in-hand more than ever before. Take a look at the wealth of fantasy novels published by Wizards of the Coast (D&D), Games Workshop (Warhammer), and Paizo (Pathfinder). Even video games such as Elder Scrolls, Dungeon Siege, Gears of War, Halo, and Fable (just to name a few) publish books so fans can go deeper into the lore. The fact is: They help sell each other. Those that play table top RPGs will also enjoy reading the books, and those that enjoy the books might want to play a game set in the same world. Tabletop RPGs make up roughly a $40-$50 million industry. Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, and Game of Thrones have all capitalized on this and you should too.

So how does one go about building a RPG? Well, it’s an arduous undertaking and requires a LOT of work. I am in the beginning stages of gamifying my novel (plus designing my own rules) and after conducting some major research, I’m happy to say that there are plenty of options at your disposal – some of which can cut your work-load in half! For example, you don’t have to invent your own rules. Numerous game systems have published their rules with “open licenses” (much like open source software) so they are free to use. However, some other systems are attached to Trademarked logos (like D20 and GURPS), so the use of their licensed rules are a bit more restrictive. Whichever you choose, you can adopt their rule systems into your game as long as you follow their license agreement. Below are the most popular to choose from:

By using one these pre-designed rule systems, it drastically reduces your work. All that is left is for you to design is the three necessary components that accompany your chosen rule system. These are:

  1. The campaign setting that details the world which tells of the politics, the religions, the world history, the currency, the organizations, the world map, and anything else that will help the Game Master run the game.
  2. The list of monsters and their stats for the players to encounter.
  3. The player-character options (such as races, classes, magic spells, feats, skills, equipment, etc).

Once you are done with your first draft, you get to reward yourself by play testing the rules! This is where you validate that the rules you created are fair and balanced. If you don’t have a group of friends willing to go through the growth pains of your game, MeetUp.com is a great place to find local playtesters. Keep in mind that it is important that you document why you decided to make a rule a certain way so that you have a log of your development process. Maintaining a detailed log will help you version control your rules so that you don’t ever find yourself accidentally inserting an old rule that you had eliminated previously.

Still too much work? You don’t need go the whole nine yards; you can design a simple game supplement that only contains a few extras from your fantasy novel that can be plugged in to a popular RPG. Gary Vannucci, a self-published fantasy author, has done this with his world of Ashenclaw by building 1 new race, 2 new classes, plus new monsters that were from his novel for use with D&D 4th Edition rules. I had asked Mr. Vannucci what sort of success he has seen from his D&D supplement and he replied, “Very little to be honest…a lot of work and so far, smattering of sales here and there.”

So what is the viability of actually turning all this work into a worthwhile amount of success? First, I’ll mention that places such as Dragon Magazine, which is a monthly publication for D&D related topics (and is also a qualified publication for membership to the SFWA), can publish articles and some original game content. But if you’re like me and want to go big game fishing, independent game publishers like Troll Lord Games accept business inquiry emails and may be willing to publishing your original game content. In addition, book publishers like Hydra Publications have created a gaming-division of their company that currently only accepts submissions for use in Primal Earth (a Pathfinder-based game), which is a prime example of the bond between novels and RPGs. I would imagine that if you authored a novel and developed the RPG material for it, you would be the total package to publishers like Hydra. Just remember: If you build it, they will come.

If you want to see a longer list of open source RPGs, check out this link: http://www.homebrew.net/games/

If you care to follow the development of my RPG campaign world and rule system, check out my other blog: http://thornwall.wordpress.com/