Let’s face it, some of the most popular RPGs out there are part of popular franchises. It’s hardly something to complain about. Roleplaying comes out of investment in a story, and a lot of things that hook people is a universe in which they are already immersed. I don’t believe that it is an accident that we’ve written a number of articles that include the Star Wars, Mistborn, and Witcher RPGs, nor that there are numerous iterations of RPGs based off of pop culture phenomena (I am personally aware of Buffy, Firefly and Doctor Who RPGs) as well as my personal experience with GMs use Genesys as a universal system to build games in the Harry Potter and the Stormlight Archive universes. Even for systems that were always games first there is an impressive amount of lore that has been generated over the years in novels, such as the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden in the Forgotten Realms or Theo Bell in Vampire the Masquerade, and for any players these stories are distinctive part of what they love.
This leads to what I refer to as the “fanfic quandary”. The reason why you pick a work of fiction to base your own story on is that you want to immerse yourself in it, but how do you make your mark on that universe? Players generally want to have agency, want to be the heroes (or villains) of the day, but how do they do so when that work’s main character is the Chosen One.Well, the problem is not unique to RPGs. The aforementioned “fanfic” can get a bad rap, but quite a few have turned out interesting over the years, and as previously mentioned some have been officially licensed novels, so why not take a look at some of the techniques these writers use and see the potential benefits and pitfalls.