Joseph Erwin – Freelance Dungeon Master

Join in the Adventures!


Normally when I talk about hacking something, it is in reference to taking an established system, usually with an established setting, and tweaking it to make it fit something else. Usually one would use a system with some degree of overlap. Take using Shadow of the Demon Lord to run a Dragon Age setting, for example: both are dark fantasy settings, have medieval tech, have clearly defined classes within the fiction, and magic. The insanity and corruption rules of Demon Lord fit neatly on top of the Dragon Age setting.

But what if we push hacking to a ridiculous extreme?

What if we used a completely incongruous system to run a setting? Like using Dark Heresy to run a game of Bunnies and Burrows, or trying to adapt the rules (“rules”) of Paranoia to run a Sword and Sorcery setting.

Depicted here: the definition of Incongruous.

For the purposes of this thought experiment, let’s assume we don’t completely change the rules from the ground up. We hold on to essential concepts like damage systems, leveling rules, skill resolution, and the like. Obviously some traits, perks, skills, and classes would need to be renamed, but why use a system when you change everything about it? It works better if many of the base attributes of a system are retained (such as the inability to count beyond five from Bunnies and Burrows).

“Alright, I guess I roll bravery to shoot the Orks…? It’s either that or cuddling.”

Let’s take an example: Using Vampire the Masquerade 5e to run a gritty WW1 adventure.

The first big question is: do we use normal character creation rules, or create humans as they exist within the game rules (i.e. less skill and stat points overall, with most characters having one or two pips in any one place). Either way is humorous (soldiers who can lift entire machine gun nests on their own, or characters who have the durability of grapefruit).

“I summon my Dark Beam as I tank the machine gun hits! The Germans won’t expect this!”

It’s funny how the way most humans are created in VtM actually works for a gritty WW1 story… Maybe the system is better suited than I thought. Best to go with Vampire creation rules and just call them human for maximum oddness. Or play as Vampires, but do none of the usual VtM drama or world-building; just play as soldiers in a miserable war machine… who just happen to burn in sunlight and can leap thirty feet through no-man’s-land.

It is all about scale and perspective. The examples of what someone with one VtM strength pip can do covers pretty much the whole gamut of potential interactions in a high-drama social RPG, and that is what would make it so funny; imagining Mr. Darcy pouring tea with enough strength to crush a car is the prime example of why rules are so important to creating an specific story.

Or the opposite part of the spectrum: having to use the fluffy RP-weighted rules of Lasers and Feelings to try to tell a story in the Warhammer 40k universe would be… well, if not completely entertaining, at least it would be a good experiment (“Is firing my bolter a lasers or feelings roll?”)

But in the end, I suppose there are some experiments which were never meant to be run. There’s a reason we don’t make submarines out of banana bread, after all.

Published by Joe Erwin

I am an independent creator and GM with a deep love of storytelling and adventure! I desire most to share these things with others, and I hope to do that through my work and my writing.

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