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Re: Long Ago Post on Converting Books to Adventures  more options
Author:   phillips
Date: 1998/11/22
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In article <732jg3$hib$>, wrote:

> Sometime in the early 1990s, I wrote an essay on how to convert
> a book into a role playing adventure or setting.  I posted it
> to  Or maybe, it was so long
> ago, I'm not sure if there was a hierarchy back then.  Anyway,
> I thought it was a very good post, but in the years since then,
> I've lost it.  (bummer!)  I seem to have posted it before
> DejaNews started keeping a record of very newsgroup posting,
> so I can not find it there.

You're right, it's a really good article.  I've used it as a reading
assignment in my university level RPG class and as a nice introduction to
adaptation work.

I've attatched it here.

Brian David Phillips, Ph.D.


Joshua Levy
From: (Joshua Levy)
Subject: Converting books to RPG worlds
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1993 01:11:17 GMT

This is an alpha release of a pseudo FAQ on how to covert a book into a RPG
world.  It is based on a posting I made made about 7 months ago.  Please email
all suggestioins for improvements to me (, so I can
encorporate them.  I'm hoping to extend it to movies, and other sources,


This posting describes how to take a book and "convert" it into a gaming


    Choosing The Book
    General Methods


I've translated a few books to roleplaying, with mixed success.  The major
problem is setting the atmosphere for people that haven't read the book.
You'll need to be a good storyteller to pull that off. While doing that, you
have to impart enough information that the characters would know, without
overloading them.  This is a fine balance.  [SO]

I usually am not too concerned about getting the exact details of people,
places, or things into the game, as long as I get the general feel of the
world and the kind of adventures that take place there.  For example, if I
were to run a game in Middle-Earth, I could care less whether the Shire had a
pond nearby called Gladwin Pool.  The books don't say so, but it's a nice
detail and it saves me a lot of time trying to find out what is exactly
around the Shire.

Anyway, to summarize again, I think that as long as you get the atmosphere of
your game similar to that of the book, you'll be happy, and your players will
probably be even moreso. [PC]


The first step is to determine if the book you want to use as the basis of
your world is suitable.

The problem is, there are some books which simply do not translate well into
the mechanics of certain games.  Can you really imagine playing an Amber-style
campaign with AD&D or GURPS rules?  I can't.  Or for that matter, playing in
any other setting with the Amber rules?  I think not. [JN]


This section contains two different methods of converting a book into a gaming

Method 1:

This is the method of [JL]; it is setting oriented.

While reading the book, I keep track of at least three lists of page numbers:

    Cool Quotes: which will be used to set the mood.

    Backgrounder: people, organizations, equipment, and places in the 	world.

    Words: any world-specific words or terms.

(In the future, I may seperate the background page numbers into one set for
people, one set for organizations, etc. instead of mixing all those page
numbers together.)  I also mark on the page, with a line in the margin, the
exact sentaces or paragraphs which are important, since I want them to be easy
to find. Obviously, you must own the book to do this.  If there are important
aspects of a world, then page numbers which refer to them should be also be
kept, in a seperate list.  For example, in a fantasy world, the magic system
would be very important, and should be tracked seperately.  The same would be
true of the computer net in a cyberpunk world.

Then I write up the and introduction to the world, for the players. This intro
used the quotes I collected before, and other information to try to give the
players a feel for the world.

Next I'll write up the rule changes and modifications that will apply when
I'm running in this world.  Some of these will be discussed with the players
in their intro, but some will not.  Hopefully, you will not need to change
the basic skill or tasking model of your favorite rule system.	But, you
might need to add skills or change other rules. Character generation is often
deaply intertwined with the gaming world, so if you have a different world,
you will often need to change the character generation process.

Finally, I reread the book, with all my paperwork handy, looking for
contradictions and omitions.

The summary of this method is:

    A. Read the book, recording page numbers.

    B. Write up a world intro (for the players).

    C. Write up the rules modifications (for the game master).

    D. Translate the things found in step (A) into the game system.

    E. Reread the book, checking for contradictions and omitions.

Method 2:

This is the method of [JN]; it is more plot oriented.

At any rate, I'd start by reading the book or books at least twice after I
decided to run a campaign set in them.  Then I'd come up with a complete,
fairly detailed plot and campaign setting building off the plot material
described in the books. Following this, I'd start taking notes on my own plot
ideas and campaign settings, but no specific stats, or anything of the sort--
do it all in terms of character descriptions and so forth.

Having done that, I know fairly well what the players are going to run into
in the areas of combat, travel situations, role-playing,  discoveries, and so
forth.	Now, I can look at things from the point of the games-mechanic-- are
there any effects (high tech, magic, whatever) that appear in the book which
aren't modelled well in my chosen system?  If so, how am I going to reconcile
the setting to the system?  Equally as important, are there any effects in
the game which aren't mentioned or allowed in the novels?  Again, fix the
discrepancies.	I would want to prepare a fairly complete list of rule
changes, modifications, additions, deletions and if need be, log tables to
make sure everything is consistent.

If the world you want to recreate is too far away from the system, this may
prove to be a monumental task, which may involve quite an intimate knowledge
of the way dice work (for the mechanic and game balance) and a good insight
into the reasoning behind these special effects.

Finally, having a general, systemless set of descriptions, and a good set of
rule changes, all that remains is adding stats to the descriptions.  [JN]


This section is made up of tips and tricks suggested by various people on net.

Plastic Tabs

What I did was take those nifty little plastic tabs, and affix them to the
pages of important descriptions, amusing quotes, etc. That way, I could use
the actual book as a quick and handy reference during play.

 It seemed like a good idea, but I'm not exactly sure how well it would work
in practice.  You see, I was GMing Munchkins at the time, and in actual play
they had all been either killed or arrested by the time the Commerzbank
executives arrived. [sigh...]. [TP]

Mood -> Rules

One thing you may want to do is determine the mood of the book. See if you can
find the mood or underlying theme of the book. Then ask yourself if there are
any mechanics that would emphasize that mood, or if there are any mechanics in
your game that would go against that mood. After thinking about this you'll
have a guide to how to GM the game in that world. You'll know some house rules
to add, and some official rules to get rid of. Genre is mood, so you have to
get the mood right to use the book as a genre. That's all I have to say on
this, since I haven't really done what you're trying to do, but I have
translated my own settings into game ideas, and that's what I needed to do to
make it work. [LM]

Time and Setting

If they *have* read the book, then you have a different problem: when, in
relation to the book, is the game set?	I've found that setting the game at
the same time as the book is a bad idea - go earlier or later, as
appropriate.  For example, I ran a Skaith game at an SF World Con, and set it
six months before Simon Ashton landed on Skaith.  It worked great - but I
always set a three musketeers after the events in the book. [SO]

Also, the book's major nuances and events (e.g. the dragons of Pern, the War
of the Ring in Tolkien's books, vampire powers in Anne Rice, etc.) should be
treated with care (to say the least).  [PC]

Changing Details

Many times, you won't be able to get every single detail exact to the book,
or you find a flaw or something that will unbalance the game if you allow it.
 In these cases, you should either (a) keep the event/power/whatever vague
and ill-defined so you won't have to deal with all of the details, or (b)
allow youself an ace-in-the-hole... a reason why the things in your
game-world are in some ways different from the book.  Also, these methods
help discourage players who are familiar with the book to try and cite page
315, paragraph 2 about how so-and-so did such-and-such and they should be
able to do it also. [PC]

A Good Example

I think that the "Thieve's World" RPG is an excellent example of what you
might be trying to acomplish: a complete world with places, people and
deities.  If you look at TW through "reverse engineering," you will not only
need quotes, but detailed (in your mind, anyway) character analyses.  It
sounds like you will be reading the book more than once, so a detailed
account of geography (as best you can make out) and important places would be
a must.  If I were doing it, I would analyze the relationships between
characters and their attitudes about government, townships, etc., so that
when your players encounter them, you will know how they should react.

I'm sure there are many ways to do this.  I personally feel that the
characters create the universe, so to speak, and I especially revel in my
players encountering characters from the book.	That's more exciting to me
than just having them visit the places and hear about the deities.  (My $.02)


This posting was built out of raw material supplied by the following people.
Thanks for all your help:

	JN 	John S. Novak III <>

	LM 	Loren Miller <>

	MD 	Maria E. Douglas <> 	PC 	Paul
Cunningham <>

	SO 	Steffan O'Sullivan <>

	TP 	Tony Pace <>

It was compiled and edited by JL, Joshua Levy <>.

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