Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: Adaptations

The font effect for the title
really bugs me.
Adaptations is about taking a pre-existing setting and porting it to the GURPS rules. A lot of gamers like to take elements from a popular franchise and stick them into a game, and a lot of them like using the setting wholesale, for good reason. If the setting is popular, it means that there is a lot of material to work off of for inspiration and a lot of decisions about small details are already made, meaning it is easier for the players and GMs to focus on their own story. Let's take a look at what we get from Adaptations and see how helpful it can be.


This book is available as a 54 page pdf, which starts on page 6, and ends on page 51, for 46 pages of content, and includes a 3 page introduction and 2 page index. Special attention needs to be paid to the introduction which stands up the framing of the examples according to six different works that have long been a part of the public domain. The book specifically doesn't have any big prerequisites but does specify the Basic Set as one, which almost goes without saying, and has several recommended supplements that add depth where particular concerns are priorities.
Lots of contents
The book is split into 5 chapters, the first 8 page chapter is devoted to the high concept, the broad strokes of the campaign, the next 12 page chapter speaks to codifying the locations in the setting, the next 13 page chapter speaks to converting characters, the next 6 page chapter is about equipments and possessions, and the final 6 page chapter is dedicated to the actual doing of stuff. This book is very soft, focusing almost solely on advice for setting conversion, with some incidental data to illustrate some conversion techniques, little in the way of fluff as the book is meant to be entirely setting agnostic, and no new rules, focusing on doing what we can with the tools we already have.
As a whole, the book is well organized, or organized as well as it could be without any glaring flaws, illustrations are appropriate, and pull-quotes are mostly on point with a few near misses. In my opinion, I think not enough of the book was dedicated to action, but at the same time, it is probably on point that the Action chapter is given less, because this is a book about conversion, and really, once you get to the actual playing of the conversion, the adaptation is mostly done. That said, it was the most interesting chapter to me.
Let me confide immediately, the idea of adapting an entire setting makes me a bit squeamish, so I don't know if I'll ever put this book to it's practical main use, so I bought this book more as an assistant to work alongside How To Be a GURPS GM and Basic Set - Campaigns for helping me to take an idea from generality to the measured metrics of GURPS. At the end of the day, for me, I find the other two more useful, but this book is not without merit. I'd consider it to almost be the softer counterpart to the harder How to be a GURPS GM. If someone were to ask in which order I'd recommend buying those three, I'd say:
  1. Basic Set - Campaigns
  2. How to be a GURPS GM
  3. Adaptations
That laid out, let's take a closer look.

High Concept

This chapter speaks to capturing the feel of the setting to kinda prescribe a guiding light to the project of developing or recreating the setting. We first talk about where the game should start, perhaps before or after the events of the original content, filling in downtime, or what have you. Basically, the kinda things to consider when spinning off of something else. Then we move on to working on the premise, the suppositions that the story is based on that make it work, either by working with realistic mundane premises, or with unrealistic, fantastic premises. It then goes into a discussion of genre and why it is important to define it and what the implications are of subscribing to them. We have a short section on mood, a critical element for getting players all singing from the same hymn sheet. I don't think there is a lot to say on the issue, but it is one of the things I wish there could have been more space dedicated to, because it is a common problem for my games.
The chapter continues, discussing Theme and how to use it as a tool for choosing what rules are appropriate to focus on in a GURPS game. The final section focuses on players and how to get them on board with the setting and the right frame of mind for it.
I think the Players section is the most novel addressed concern in the chapter, and it is adequately covered. That said, the entire chapter feels pretty system agnostic and even almost decoupled from the concept of setting conversion - it speaks to things that are definitely important for doing an adaptation, but not in a way that precludes the advice being used for original settings as well, which I think makes the chapter even better. A very solidly helpful chapter.


Conversion of places to me seems paradoxically the most difficult task in a adaptation, and also the least important. Maybe it's just my opinion, but capturing the exact geography is a waste of cycles, but I can see how it definitely helps improve immersion.
The first section in this chapter Describing the World, asks one to find the information they can and how to research and parse this information. It ends with advice on how to add original locations to an existing setting.
The next section, Environments begins with a strangely hyper detailed list of equations for calculating the gravity, surface temperature, and other minutiae of a created planet. Thanks? But then gets back on track with some more useful information speaking to how one might realistically distribute terrain and biomes across a large setting. We then look at methods of determining the appropriate tech level for a setting. As an aside, I think a discussion on why the sophisticated notation of alternative tech levels might be helpful for anyone. I guess, it could be good for settings where encountering multiple tech levels are necessary, and maybe it's my fault for never building a setting where that is a big concern. Oh well, back on topic then. The rest of the information on help choosing populations, defining cultures, setting up politics and wars, and supernatural forces are absolutely on point though, with maybe the exception that the discussion on supernatural forces feels a bit out of place.
The next section, Locations, talks about how to define cities, buildings, vehicles, and especial wildernesses. I like this section a lot, and the examples used here to derive GURPS statistics are very helpful.
The final section Settings and Drama speaks to how the world the game takes place in shapes the type of games that take place. We first look at the parameters to see how certain attributes could be dialed up or down to make a different type of game: a planet spanning world is different from a town spanning world, for example.
Then we speak to the functions of the environments, and how they impact travel, exploration, mapping, etc. It talks about how looking at the environment and using it differently leads to different styles of gameplay and how we can change a campaign based on this. A fun conversation, but a little light for my taste.
The similar paired section speaking to the functions of locations talks to what a particular location does for a game, and how they can be used. A location is more specific than an environment, so this section is covered better.


This chapter is about identifying critical characters in the book and parameterizing them to give an idea of expectations of typical power levels for characters, and identifying potential contacts, allies, and patrons.
The first section Roles, is about figuring out your protagonists, antagonists, supporting characters, etc. so that we can define them appropriately in terms of advantages like ally or disadvantages like enemy, and so we can figure out the values of organizations.
The next section, Defining Major Characters includes guidelines and advice for putting together character sheets for the characters that need them. This is probably the most helpful section in this chapter, and a good resource for those who like the mental challenge of converting popular characters into GURPS characters. The chapter is incredibly detailed and goes over several attributes and properties of characters to consider, probably making for a good checklist for designing any character, almost making this a good substitute or supplement for some of the material from the beginning of Basic Set - Characters.
The final, very short section speaks to how to design original characters. The advice is really good. It is short, but it does the job, and if it were any longer, it'd probably be regurgitating a bunch of details from the previous section.


This is a peculiar chapter, and something maybe I gloss over, so a helpful reference to me. As such, I could really use a longer version of this chapter in my life. It has so many good ideas and helpful examples, but it falls short of satisfying all the things I want in a chapter about statting out equipment. 
It speaks to the importance of items as narrative pieces, and advice on how to stat them from the usual suspects of GURPS *-Tech books. An unusual inclusion is a mention of speaking to stats for fauna. I guess, of all the chapters, this one might make the most sense, but I feel weird about it anyway, and think it might have fit better in the previous chapter.
The final section talks to another concern I usually gloss over, so I'm glad it is highlighted here, and that's the thought of availability. This covers ideas like whether key technologies are limited by control rating or tech level, or whether things might be rare artifacts that are precious and hard to come by.
Overall, I greatly appreciate this chapter because it is something that I just don't think I've dedicated enough thought to, so having it right in front of me gives me something to chew on and maybe I can improve future games with the advice given here.


This chapter talks to the actual execution of a campaign, which kinda depends on how the previous chapters are applied. It speaks to using the setup of the previous chapters to create the correct types of conflicts and give tools, physical or metaphorical for advancing the campaign in the "appropriate" way.
We come into a section called modes that speaks to the differences in cinematic or realistic games and what the implications are for each for the events of the actual campaign and what vehicles of agency this gives the players.
We then have a section on Narratives which talks about how stories are broken down from session to session, and how much continuity there is between sessions; is each session a self contained adventure, part of a story-arc, or something else?
Finally, Preparing the Payoff is about preparing for the end of the campaign and the resolution of a climax or similar event. The advice here is really interesting and has some helpful dos and don'ts.

Other Thoughts and Conclusion

I think this book is definitely still helpful even if I don't intend to use this in the vein of running GURPS: Dark Souls or GURPS: Gensokyo. It isn't exactly a guide for creating an original setting, but it can take any established setting, original or borrowed, and walks you through some important considerations for making it game-able in GURPS. Even though I consider it less critical than Basic Set  - Campaigns and How to be a GURPS GM, I am carefully considering inducting it as the third member of the holy triumvirate of "All the stuff you need to make a GURPS Game."


  1. I agree that Adaptations and How to Be a GURPS GM seem to cover similar ground in different ways. I am starting to wonder if the sense of repetition indicates that both books haven't quite defined what they are trying to do. Specifically, I wonder if there's a book running through both of them (and Basic Set) that is essentially a "GURPS philosophy of RPGs" - what it means to have a GURPS game, what assumptions are made, and what variations are possible. GURPS models a lot of RPGs, but it still makes some assumptions about what an RPG game entails. I feel like these books are attempting to elucidate that approach, but because they don't do it explictly they feel incomplete or unbalanced.

    1. Interesting thoughts, and I can somewhat agree with that. I think it's a funny thing that is hard to nail down, and no matter how hard you try and write it down, there are some things that you can't teach a new player/gm until they make the mistake, and decide they don't want to do it again. Almost like an "art," in a way.

  2. I will stipulate that the planetary design section was a bit out of the main focus of GURPS Adaptations. The reason I thought it worth including is that GURPS Space provides rules for starting out with randomly rolled, or intentionally chosen, basic values for a solar system and a planetary orbit and so on, and working out what the planet is like and what conditions obtain there. But if you start out with a description of Arrakis, or Barsoom, or Krypton, or Trantor, and want to make the right choices for planetary design to match that description, there are no published rules for that, and no method other than repeated trial and error. Being able to run the design process in reverse to say "Okay, Krypton has this mass and this orbit around this type of star" seems like a help to people running sf campaigns. It could have been done as a separate Pyramid article, but since I could fit it all into a little over a page (including my variant rules for designing places like Lowellian Mars), I felt like I could justify it.

    1. Sure! It's good stuff, and there are definitely people that would appreciate it. My weird thought on it though is how is John Doe, neophyte GM who wants to run GURPS: Dune going to know "yes, I need to look in this book to find it."
      And I guess... he'll know because web crawlers will tell him to look at this review!


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