My gaming buddies and I rarely ever play a game set in a setting right out of a book or movie (except when we do) but we often want to play in a setting inspired by a book or series. Here are my thoughts on starting a game based on Game of Thrones.
WARNING: Spoilers for those who have not read the series.
Something’s wrong with the kingdom. There is an imbalance and it might lead to war or war has started. Something is happening and the players must deal with it. Think about what that might be but don’t fret too much; you don’t have anything to go on yet; the bits I’m posting up are in no particular order and in my experience, different elements pop up in different order in different campaigns.
Its the feudal system, finding problems isn’t too damned hard.
King Robert was a big ole frat boy of a king and people loved him but he was also hit his wife, drank too much, drove the kingdom into debt and had a psychotic hatred of the Targaryens.
Mad King Aerys was psychotic but Rhaegar fought on his behalf and…dragons are cool, right?
What I’m saying in describing these two kings is that you don’t want the situation to be too simple. Unless you play a game where you are taking down the monarchy and killing knights with muskets and if so, invite me to play because I’ve wanted to play that game for a while now. But, even then, as the Westmark books taught us, even that isn’t simple. Revolution is bloody business and as both books let us know: politics is complicated.
Yeah, you are going to need a map, nothing huge but something with rivers, castles and mountains. Situation will bleed out of this map once you get going. The Frey’s are who they are because they control the Twins and thus control the crossing. The Starks have the North. In A Song of Ice and Fire, geography informs the politics.
Don’t get crazy with the map; have fun and as Dungeon World teaches us, leave some blank spaces for later.
Names and Cosmology
Like any fantasy world, names are important. I suggest coming up with either a standard way of naming for the kingdom or different nationalities for each family. In our Ice and Fire-inspired game, the sun, moon and earth were a big part of the cosmology and that made it easy to name cities and castles. Those three things give us tons of cool words (Corona, Gibbous, Hunters, Eclipse, etc.).
In our Song of Ice and Fire inspired game, we decided that the cosmology involved a deity for the Moon, Sun and Earth. That conversation went something like this:
Judd: What if the religion was based on the worship of the sun, moon and earth…some kind of trinity.
Pete: How about the sun is a goddess, just to switch things up.
Judd: So the earth is male and the moon is some kind of trickster who changes genders.
This shaped our kingdom and allowed us to make cusses like, “Sun’s tits!”
Your cosmology can of course be a source of situation too and it came up in our game, whose viking raiders to the east worshiped the Moon and Stars! Heathens!
Let it Build
You don’t have to know who owns every castle. Let that build up through play. Take notes, link NPC’s up with lots of cousins, nephews and crazy marriage alliances that make politics a mire.
The gender issues can be as on the table or off the table as the beliefs dictate. There are plenty of female knights in the books who don’t deal with those issues, the Mormonts come immediately to mind on this one.
As to sex, the politics, power-plays and such mentioned up above should make it all a lovely mess.
(Judd’s Note: I realize after writing this that it is almost entirely re-phrased bits of the Adventure Burner re-written for Song of Ice and Fire and I’m fine with that. I haven’t made a blog post in a while and have a longer post that is timed to go out into the world on Saturday, when Daniel re-surfaces from Rosh Hashanah.)
Notes for Burning Wheel hacking? Okay, here are some more notes for Ice and Firing up your Burning Wheel game.
The sworn liege trait is tweaked just a touch so that you can have a 4th belief that is either your family words or an unofficial family motto (Winter is coming vs. A Lannister always pays his debts). Putting these into your beliefs is asking your GM to challenge what it is to be a member of that family and you’ll find out how far you will go to uphold those virtues. Hopefully, you won’t end up getting your head chopped off on the Sept of Balor in front of your daughters.
I don’t think we need battles and I know folks are going to disagree with me and that’s cool, or else why would we need the comments section. The capture of Jaime Lannister in Whispering Wood happened off-screen; we watched Cat! The only battle that was on-screen with lots of main characters was the King’s Landing Siege and I think all of those bits could be easily figured out with well placed Fight!, Range and Cover and versus rolls.
I think the Tuchman-inspired human LP’s in the book will work pretty well with a trait tweak here and there if you want a Maester or a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch.