-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
With Gen Con, the largest gaming convention on the continent, starting tomorrow, we thought it would be fun and fitting to pick a few comic series that would make fun role-playing games (RPGs).
This isn’t new ground — DC and Marvel have both licensed their universes to a number of different RPG companies in the last 30 years. And Atomic Robo, one of our favorite comics, was released as a critically-acclaimed RPG this past year. But if we could pick a few other comic books we want to play as RPGs, which ones would they be? What would we want to see in them?
We start with the series that nobody should be surprised to see on this list:
Steph: Rat Queens. Obviously.
-J.: Obviously. One: because we love it, and two: because it already reads like a fantasy RPG turned into an awesome comic book.
Steph: I can already plug members of our gaming group into each main character, let alone what they could come up with on their own in the Rat Queens world.
-J.: We’re going to talk about world-building in this discussion a lot, as that’s an integral part of any RPG setting. But Rat Queens also adds a certain timbre and voice that I enjoy, and that would be fun to carry over to tabletop games.
Steph: At least in our own gaming group, I think we try to make it as fun and adventure-loving as Rat Queens, minus all the drug use.
-J.: A lot of that is the players, but a good RPG book with a strong voice can also help set the mood for the players and GMs. Examples that come to mind are the small vignettes that appear as sidebars in the Delta Green books, which help build the atmosphere of corrupting and entropic horror. Or I think about the 13th Age Bestiary, which includes the line, “…things went sour thanks to the dark elves. But really, isn’t that what people always say? Blaming the dark elves is almost like saying ‘Shit happened.’” Rat Queens feels like it would be that kind of game.
Steph: I have said it countless times, including to Kurtis Wiebe himself, everyone should read Rat Queens.
-J.: This is such an obvious choice, it’s already happening in the real world. Wiebe is working with Dungeon World designer Adam Koebel to bring our favorite comic book to the gaming table.
-J.: We had to limit ourselves to only one Rucka series, and Steph picked this one.
Steph: In this book the main character is Forever Carlyle, the “Lazarus” of Family Carlyle. We see most of the story through her eyes, and right away I had sympathy for her. She is very much like the characters I’ve created through out my RPG career: Tough, large, and super-strong.
-J.: That is true, you do create a lot of characters in the warrior-woman mold. I also love that you picked this series. Rucka is one of my favorite writers, and the worlds he creates and situations he sets up are so damn interesting.
Steph: I think Lazarus could make for an excellent RPG, due to the political intrigue between the waring Families, but also the everyday lives of the Waste and Serfs. If you do not find a place as a Serf in your territory you are labeled Waste, and left pretty much to your own devises.
-J.: My immediate thought is that this would be a perfect setting for an Apocalypse World game. It’s a highly lethal setting, with investigation and character relationships and history that evolve over the course of the narrative. OR — this would also be a setting for the Dark system that’s currently in development. I would love to run a session with one player as a Lazarus trying to infiltrate a rival Family’s compound. Mark it down: whenever Dark comes out, I’m running a game of it in the Lazarus setting.
Steph: When I first read Saga I fell in love. It was one of the best, original, and creative books I’d read in a long time. Sure the star-crossed lovers plot has been done before, but never this good.
-J.: It’s not just the star-crossed lovers, but all the star systems they cross, as well. This isn’t just two houses, both alike in dignity, who’re engaged in an ancient grudge. These are two empires whose grudge has become a galaxy-spanning feud fought by proxies. It is a brilliant setup that allows for so many points of entry for players.
Steph: You could theoretically make anything into a character, you could make any planet a setting. The Universe is the limit.
-J.: That also gives you a wide berth of systems you could use. The FATE rules follow that exact concept — anything can be a character. It’s a very open, flexible system that would allow players to create their own sweeping space-bound tales of romance and danger. I could also see the Cortex Plus Action system (used in the Firefly RPG) as a good basis, as well. Personally, though, I would probably try Saga out with One-Roll Engine (as used in Godlike or Better Angels). Saga operates along a lot of shades of grey, and I like the way that One-Roll Engine gives players and GMs dice rolls that invite such shaded interpretation.
-J.: Revival combines all the things I look for in a great horror RPG. It’s a supernatural brand of horror that plays with realism, it’s focused on unravelling a mystery that’s perhaps best left alone, and the setting is haunting and atmospheric. Plus, it takes place in northern Wisconsin, which is the perfect remote setting for supernatural horror.
Steph: True. Remote, quiet places usually make for the creepiest.
-J.: And when rural areas get dark, it’s the kind of darkness that smothers your senses. The series seems perfect for a GUMSHOE system game, like Trail of Cthulhu or Night’s Black Agents. But I’d really like play this in the Delta Green system that’s in development. If I were to play Revival as an RPG, I would want a system that not only highlights the supernatural and procedural aspects of the series, but also focuses on the tension between your actions and your bonds with other characters.
Steph: I think this would be fun because the zombies, or “revivalists”, aren’t the typical brain eating, mindless shambling corpses. Everyone who was revived came back physically whole and near indestructible, but not without their problems. Whether investigator or trouble-maker, this would make for a good storytelling game.
-J.: My favorite RPGs tend to have rich worlds to discover and explore, and plenty of lore for you to stumble across. The Autumnlands has this in spades, along with magical intrigue and a social divide that is epitomized by the upper classes living in floating cities. Plus, you get to play as anthropomorphic animals!
Steph: I think I’d want to be an elephant. An elephant sorceress. My name would be Colossa, and I would specialize in water and wind spells. -J., you should probably get on this.
-J.: Start with the “Elemental Caster” talent for the Druid class from 13th Age, and we’re halfway there…
To Sum It All Up
There are a lot of comics that would make great settings for a role-playing game. We didn’t even mention the Green Lantern Corps, B.P.R.D., or any number of books Greg Rucka has written. But we would gladly play any one of these.