From West To East

I was watching an episode of The Wild Wild West recently and got to thinking about how to run it in a RPG.  While I could just focus on the one show, I thought I’d look at other shows from the era as material for role-playing.

The Wild Wild West

James Bond as a Western.  Oozes cool, even kind of dark, giving it some edge.  Why in the world did Will Smith have to crap all over it by casting himself as James West?  I didn’t see the movie, so I don’t know what else is offensive besides the image I have in mind of running from a giant mechanical spider.  Nothing wrong with giant mechanical spider in the technoweird world of TWWW, but Robert Conrad would have climbed it, face punched a guard, planted explosives, and dived off as it blew up … which may very well have happened for all I know, not that I will ever know due to Will Smith’s casting as James West.

I can’t shake the idea of using Savage Worlds for the system.  As much as I don’t entirely get SW and as much as there are other systems that handle normals well at least at a character sheet level – WoD, Unisystem, etc. – that Solomon Kane wasn’t that painful to run and that I actually ran it some gives me more of a feel for how to model the game.

Would it be a good campaign to run for more than two players?  Maybe three, but I don’t really see more than that to capture the same feel.  That’s not a bad thing.  A lot of games aren’t that great for just two players without rethinking how to run.

While I’m rarely a fan of actually playing characters from source material, there is the important question of whether to play characters just like James West and Artemus Gordon or let players create different archetypes (probably two characters like Jim rather than more characters like Arty).


It has been ages since I’ve watched Bewitched.  The set up for the show might suck for RPing, but the world might suck less.  There were gatherings of witches and warlocks …

… nah, it would still be dumb.  The idea of witches in the modern world is already covered by Witchcraft, Mage, and other RPGs, so there’s no real point to drawing from Bewitched.

Get Smart

I love Get Smart.  I’d even be willing to watch the movie, which I’ve heard good things about, overcoming my strong reluctance to waste time and money on movies.

However, it’s a terrible RPG world.  While (intentional) comedy is possible in role-playing (unintentional is the norm for my groups), I deplore the lack of subtlety it routinely has in the RPG industry, such as Paranoia.  Then, I don’t think people realize that Maxwell Smart is not just a buffoon but a combination of Bond and buffoon.  The serious aspects help keep it from dissolving entirely into juvenile humor.

Far better, though my recollection of the show is so much worse that I can’t be sure, is probably Man From U.N.C.L.E. for the spy genre.  Of course, James Bond already exists and there are plenty of RPGs based around spies, so “why bother?” looking for inspiration from a TV show is a cogent question.

Perry Mason

Very formulaic.  But, why not RPing normal detective work (taking the detective work aspects from this courtroom show)?  Pure detective is not something I recall doing.  It’s almost always supernatural detective or investigation activities in miscellaneous genres (Vampire, L5R, etc.).

Even the courtroom focus of the show provides a hook that other games wouldn’t have.  I am just very fearful that playing this repeatedly would be incredibly redundant.  Not like, say, doing a Sherlock Holmes style campaign might be, even if ACD’s Sherlock Holmes stories tend to fall into only a few categories.  Though, how do you play Sherlock Holmes without Sherlock Holmes as the star?

I don’t know that system should matter much with such a game, though any system that makes skill use or perception rolls lame would be a bad choice.

Hogan’s Heroes

I have often thought about how to do a Hogan’s Heroes game.  Not only do I love the show – some of the best comfort TV ever, but the ensemble cast and WWII setting both scream role-playing.

Of course, the obvious issue is being in a POW Camp and that the threat of being discovered is not a credible threat when gaming since it destroys the genre.  I suppose that there could be some sort of penalty involved in the threat of discovery that never results in true discovery – Fate intervenes but you lose XP or bad things (TM) happen or whatever.  Or, you can even come up with a victory point system where “discovery” causes a massive loss in VPs to track reduced XP/rewards or sucky stuff happening (e.g. successful mission -> sleep with secretary, “discovered” -> secretary is too “busy” covering up your mistakes).

The system here should be easy and heavily skill-based.


I had never heard of this show until today.  It ran four seasons.  The premise is okay.  I don’t care anything about it, even after reading a bit.  I just was amazed that I ran across this while looking for lists of shows from the 60’s as it’s actually the sort of show I could have seen watching back in the day – guess it wasn’t syndicated like the 50’s and 60’s shows that predated my birth that I did watch.


Anyway, if anyone is wondering about the likes of [insert Western here], Star Trek, The Saint, The Avengers, [insert cartoon here], et al, the point was to take a look at shows I watched enough to remember and that weren’t obvious choices that people had already done.

Certainly, the Western genre, without weirdness, is a rare enough choice for people to play, and I did watch a variety of Westerns when I was young, if not all from the 60’s.  But, The Wild Wild West is such a good variant.  The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. might be another take on variant Western that could have some legs.  Sure, there’s Deadlands that supposedly people play though I only recall witnessing people playing the CCG, but the supernatural elements are a different flavor.

For cartoons, none of the 60’s ones really grabbed me as a world I’d choose.  I’d expect there to be more such offerings from the 70’s and onwards.  I don’t remember much of Blackstar – I wonder how many people remember it at all, I only mention it because I do – Thundarr’s world would be far better for gaming.

One thing about TV shows is that they are very possibly better constructed for campaigns then movies/books are.  Ironic?  I don’t tend to think of episodic play when I think of campaign play, so why episodic source material rather than serial material?

Overwhelmingly, the nature of books and movies having an ending, a completed narrative, is what makes them problematic.  While there are series of books and movies, I tend to think of an entire book series as the source material where the episodic nature of so many TV shows makes them more consistent whatever time period you take such that sampling the show covers the source material.  Or, looking at it another way, a book/movie is about what happens, while a TV show is about the premise.  Many a RPG campaign wants to retain the basic premise rather than evolve a story far beyond the initial premise.  Even a five-year, designed campaign like Heroes of Rokugan may see very little change in the nature of one’s character.  Though, not every TV show is alike, as we can see with a five-year, designed story in Babylon 5 that was very much about what happened when looked at in its entirety and not just “we are diplomats from various races on a space station”.


One Response to From West To East

  1. Azel says:

    About episodic versus serial material, you may want to check out D&D With Porn Stars’ post “Where The Action Is (Part 2).” It brings up the distinction of a ‘picaresque’ versus a ‘traditional dramatic work.’ This distinction very much coincides with your assessment of their native accessibility to translate upon RPGs.

    Basically the picaresque structure puts emphasis upon the style of the protagonist and renders timeless their escapades. Whereas traditional drama puts emphasis upon economy and clarity of tropes within a “placed” time and setting so as to reveal greater inner virtues/flaws about the protagonist. According with your Premise v. What Happens idea, you see how Style becomes its own substance in this Style v. Substance comparison.

    Again there is a timelessness of character versus a progression of characterization. And that distinction makes one source easier to work with when importing into a improvisational collaborative work (a.k.a. RPGs).

    I like that word: picaresque. An idea bouncing around my head for a while looking for the right word.

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