Inspired by Television

Television programs have long inspired role-playing games; we have adapted concepts from TV into games, like arcs, episodes, etc. Books on scriptwriting have been incredibly useful for me when creating adventures. This “season” (and I use the term lightly as it loses its traditional meaning in the face of evolving media) has some outstanding series that inspire me, give me ideas for current and future games and make me want to run all sorts of different games. Let me share what inspired me recently.

Game of Thrones: Duh! This is a no-brainer. I am a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (despite the fact that the series will probably NOT end in his lifetime), so the TV series was great. There is an official RPG for those interested in running a game in Westeros, but even if you don’t there is so much to take from this series. Smart, dark fantasy, its nuances may not be for everybody, but to me the pacing and style alone are worth examining. Season 2 is coming soon, so even if you don’t feel like reading through the books, don’t miss the show.

The Walking Dead: Here is another adaptation, in this case of a top notch comic book series. This is a great take on the zombiepocalypse, more interested on the human aspect than the gore and scares of the undead. I know it’s been called overtly winded and slow on the second season, but I for one love it! There is so much to consider here when running a zombie survival game. If you like the series, pick up the TBP of the comic, unsurprisingly the source material is even better.

American Horror Story: Gory pastiche or brilliant tribute! Definitely not for everybody, some will find it too much, others too tame, but almost every cliché and theme of modern horror TV and films get thrown into this roller-coaster ride of a series. I think most horror games integrate many influences and this program shows how it can be done.

Homeland: This series was a taunt political thriller, it reminded me of The Manchurian Candidate, not because of the plot but because it was a great story. I don’t think I would steal the plot to run as a game, but there are characters, ideas, and plot elements to fuel a modern game.

Alcatraz: This is the newest ones and possibly the one with the most possibility to adapt for a game. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but if you’ve seen any TV, or info online, you probably know it’s about former Alcatraz inmates that disappeared in the 60s and are coming back today; and the people trying to stop them. I love the mysteries and flashbacks, this last aspect probably being the hardest to replicate in a game. But if you really like the series I can conceive playing another team of investigators helping the protagonists track the inmates down. Even if you don’t play a game strictly based on the series, there is a lot to inspire you here. Check it out!

Those are just some of the TV series that inspire me right now? What inspires you? I’d sure like to know…

9 thoughts on “Inspired by Television”

  1. Many shows over the years. The key ones below:

    horror/mystery/thriller/conspiracy:
    Twin Peaks
    Twilight Zone
    X Files
    Tales form the Crypt
    Millenium (the one with Lance Henriksen)
    Dark Skies
    The Prisoner (the British original)

    SF:
    Star Trek (TOS, NG, DS9)
    Space Above and Beyond
    Babylon 5

    and surprisingly,
    Miami Vice
    (for Shadowrun inspiration)

    1. Babylon 5 is the single most influential TV series to my GMing style, for good and ill…

      Miami Vice for Shadowrun? Interesting…

      1. B5 taught me about the proper way to slowly, gradually, reveal the true plot of the campaign, instead of having it all come out in the first game session, and then playing through the motions of resolving the conflict. That style of GM’ing usually turned into “the main plot is an excuse for the hack-and-slash type gaming that follows for a few sessions afterward … and quickly loses it’s luster”.

        The first game I actually managed to run in that post-B5 style, got amazingly enthusiastic reviews from my players. They continued to think about that game for years after it was over. Big ego points for me :-)

        The other things I learned from JMS: “if you put a gun on the table, drawing attention to it, in act 1 … you had better use that gun in some way by the end of the story”. And, the converse of that also makes for better story telling: If you have some major plot event near the climax of your story, try to give hints about parts of it much earlier. Like, if the climax involves a battle at a major fortress, have the players visit that fortress a few times earlier in the storyline. Then it seems more like “a part of our world” instead of just a gimmick or deus-ex-machina (depending on the exact plot feature in question).

  2. I also greatly loved “Homeland”. Though, I would say that it DOES have a lot of echoes of “The Manchurian Candidate”. It’s not a literal update of the story, but the meat of the first season is clearly an homage to that storyline. Kind of a “how do we turn the Manchurian Candidate from a 2 hour movie story into a cable-tv season/series”. Then, how do we set it up to be a multi-season ongoing story? all while fleshing things out to be well thought-out and not just a pedestrian retelling of that original story.

    And, yes, it’s quite good. Elements of that story could work their way into several RPGs.

    I also find the acting to be amazing … not just Claire Danes (who deserved the award for that role), but really the entire cast. If you missed the first season (ended a few weeks ago), find it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed. Even if you know The Manchurian Candidate (I had seen both versions of the movie) there’s enough there that’s new, and enough there that’s not part of those original storylines, that you should enjoy it. And if you DON’T know the Manchurian Candidate … watch Homeland first. That should be extra good.

    1. There was a midpoint episode (not going into too much detail to avoid spoilers) where I thought the series might have jumped the shark, BUT no… This was an awesome series. Highly recommended!
      And I too like both Manchurian Candidate versions.

  3. Great post! Ties in nicely with my recent post on “Episodic Adventures” http://bit.ly/yS9xKC. There must be something going around in the metamind of the RPG blogging community.

    Star Trek and Dr. Who would be the kings for how to model a sci-fi RPG around episodic adventures that also include elements of session arcs. Both have been made into RPGs, but I haven’t played them. Does anyone know — do these spin-off RPGs make use of the episodic nature of these TV shows in terms of game play or campaign structure?

  4. Alcatraz has really hooked me in and got my mind spinning on a possible Cthulhu-type kind of connection. It’s probably not the angle the show will end up going with but the time travel, mystery room and visits to the doctor are the kind of mysteries that are prime fodder for rpg inspiration.

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