Bringing fandoms to the table

Anyone with a DnD rulebook has seen the “traditional” roleplaying setting – some Tolkien-esque landscapes with dwarves underground, elves in the trees, wizards in towers, and trolls in the dungeon.

With 7 phylacteries, Voldemort is the most difficult lich to kill ever… are we sure JKR never played DnD?

Most experienced players have met a powerful wizard, dodged some dangerous traps, been roused by a horde of zombies in a graveyard or tried to ninja a dragon’s loot from under their nose. And I’m sure like many, you’re wondering, Is that medieval, Game Of Thronesey, what-even-are-firearms setting the only one you’ll ever get out of all those precious rulebooks? The answer is no – like anything in DnD, and indeed roleplaying in general, the opportunities are limitless. We’re here to delve into that and give you some inspiration, and in doing so, bring one of the most infectious aspects of geek culture to the DnD table – fandoms:

Using the rules – Assassin’s Creed

Origins as a campaign setting

Sloped wall + regular handholds (DC20) + Smooth Surface (+5) – Bayeks’ got some mad ranks in climb

Believe it or not, the 3.5 rulebooks are so expansive that they actually cover different technology levels in depth – The Arms and Equipment Guide has a section on firearms, as well as how to create weapons that better fit your campaigns available technology. That book alone has enough pre-set rules to cover most of the eras and situations shown in Desmond’s many past lives, and guidelines enough to help you patch the gaps in technology.

It includes muskets for the Renaissance era (AC2), some siege weapons, including Cannons (Black Flag) – which could be complemented with Stormwrack for a lot of “piratey” goodness, and a guide on campaigns with a lower level of technology than you’re used to – Like the ancient Egyptian era in Origins. Deities and Demigods also includes stats (and some interesting reads) on the entire Egyptian Pantheon for some additional inspiration. All of that can be achieved with the guidebooks alone, with minimal fudging or figuring out.

World building – Ravnica

Wizards Of The Coast(WoTC) have recently released the Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica – Bringing Magic: The Gathering players something special to DnD – but the focus there is more on the guild dynamic than the idea of the setting – an entire planet that is a dense urban city (much like Star Wars’ Coruscant).

The

The “City” of Townsville, um, no, Ravnica, covers the entire planet. In other words, the druids lost.

In many DnD games – a lot of time is spent outside the city – hunting wild monsters, searching for lost treasure, taming that new animal companion. In a world where there is no wilderness, nature finds a way, and so must the players. Parts of the city might be wilder than others, or maybe there’s some sort of abandoned underground to the city.

The Cityscape book has a lot of handy resources for this kind of setting, but it’s up to the DM to make sure they know what parts of the city are important – While a lot of people will argue that worldbuilding isn’t storytelling, it does provide the flexibility to respond to any “zany” ideas your players may have.

The guild dynamic in Ravnica serves this purpose well and illustrates the advantage of thorough worldbuilding: if players decide they need to do some graverobbing, they’re going to run into some Golgari gravediggers at some point. Are they constantly getting into trouble for fighting for justice? They might just find some allies within the Boros? Are they planning on defaulting on a loan? Well, I have a black-white life-steal deck, (oh right, this is a DnD post) Well, the Orzovha(The church of deals) may have a sermon or two to deliver on that subject, which could give your players a few weeks of fun surviving-by-the-skin-of-their-teeth to enjoy.

Thematic Rules – Bleach/ Fairy Tail

Bleach - Kenpachi wrecking Ichigo

Zaraki: Level 30-something barbarian, STR 50 Ichigo: Just barely making a reflex save

I once had a game where three different players, each using completely different rulesets, ended up with Aasamirs with super-OP weapons and a penchant for killing either undead or outsiders, and it looked an awful lot like a trio of Shinigami levelling up their Shikai while hunting hollows. Once we realised it, we co-ordinated the rules on ancestral weapons and legacy weapons and before we knew it, Bleach in DnD was a thing. There are a lot of rules or special tricks in DnD that can be used to tie characters together to a theme while still allowing a lot of individuality and freedom.

The gestalt rules, for example, allow a lot of characters who develop equally in magical and combat ability; for example, fairy tail. (Idea – all characters gain levels as wizards that are forbidden from all magic schools except one, and all spells have energy substitution, along with their normal levels – eg, Gray, level 12 monk/conjurer with ice spells). The lesson here being that by adding massive significance to one relatively flexible, and simple mechanic, you can create a whole new feel to the gameplay itself as well as the settings.

Making new rules – Trigun

There’s a lot to be said for the power of being a DM – but with all of the rules and stats in the game it’s easy to fall into the habit of what’s already there – but what about what isn’t there? What if you want a story set in a world populated by machines that survived a rain of derelict spaceships from the sky and gun-toting madmen? As extensive as they are, there are things that the rulebooks don’t cover. But the DMG does have a short section on creating your own rules – the keywords it focuses on are “Balance” and “Fun”.

Trigun - Love and Peace

Love and Peace, ironically right after Vash rolled 20 each on bluff/intimidate

It can be daunting to create any “new” rules or stat sets as a DM – an easy practice exercise (the first I ever did) is to check the various entries for elves in the Monster Manual and create another subrace – something like a sand elf or mountain elf that seems similarly balanced. You can create feats, spells and items in a similar way – the trick is to start with an idea and keep building from there – the more you follow it the easier it will come to you. If you hit a block, look up something that does exist in the rules that’s vaguely similar – for example; you could recreate the spaceships in Trigun using similar concepts to the ones used in the SpellJammer* book, and as for the “plant” race that Vash belongs to – near-immortal, one or two high stats, can commune with machines like druids commune with trees, weird weapon proficiencies – sounds like a slightly adjusted wood elf to me. WoTC gave us not only a huge platform for our games but a huge canvas to draw even more from and create entirely new settings.

Check online – Avatar (TLA + LOK)

Sometimes you see a series, movie or read a book that makes you think, “this world is so immersive, the combat is so intricate and exciting, there’s gotta be a way to tabletop this” and you’re almost certainly right. More importantly, you’re almost certainly not the first person to think that, and if you’re lucky, one of the people who thought it before thought about it hard enough to put something online themselves.

I can has airbending?

I had this exact experience after watching The Legend of Korra and deciding to run a campaign set a few years after the end of the series. I spent a lot of time wandering how bending would fit into 3.5 and even considered building my own system from scratch (note: this is never as good an idea as you think it is, it’s a lot of work), until I found this beautiful piece of internet and two weeks later, a fire-bender, water-bender and earth-bender were chasing some cutpurses through the streets of Bah Sing Sei. The first rule of the internet – someone has already thought of it – you just need to take advantage of that.

Use a whole new system – Star Wars/Firefly

You honestly didn’t think I’d mention fandoms without bringing up these two, did you? (Sorry HP fans, but “everyone plays as a wizard” was too easy to include a section for) I spent longer than I’m proud of trying to figure out how the force, droids and lightsabers would fit into the DnD 3.5 ruleset (oddly enough, space combat was, by far, the easiest part) only to discover that WoTC actually released a set of Star Wars D20 RPG books almost as large as the 3.5 collection, as well as a d6-based variant (I won’t judge – we don’t dice-shame here).

Stormtrooper Pop

Stormtrooper armor: -20 to ranged attack rolls

While a whole new game system sounds daunting in terms of the learning curve, the Star Wars one, in particular, is similar enough to DnD 3.5 that I’d be willing to use characters, droids, and Ships interchangeably with the DnD rules without fear of balance issues, if a sci-fi campaign setting called for it.

On the other hand, if learning a whole new system doesn’t sound so daunting, the change of pace might be welcome along with the different setting – and there is no shortage of systems out there. Most of which are either directly aimed toward a particular fandom, if not inspired by one, or even several. In the case of Scum and Villainy, (which I ran into quite by accident on my hunt for the Star Wars expansion books) which claims inspirations from every well-known space opera out there short of Doctor Who (they list Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly), and also forms a great basis for something similar to a tabletop of Freelancer or X3, which again, you could backtrack and combine those with elements of SpellJammer, which was WoTC’s original answer to “How can we play DnD in SPACE?” to create something completely original.

Firefly - I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you

Captain Malcom Reynolds – the man with the infinity symbol next to his charisma score – Firefly also has its own book here

The sky’s the limit

We’ve gone over not just several fandoms and how you can bring them to your DnD table, but also some basics over how to bring anything to your DnD table – All it takes is a bit of determination and a lot of stubbornness and you can turn any book, movie or series into a playground for you and your players. So the real question is, what fandom would you bring to the table?


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Dylan Beckbessinger

App developer by day, Chaotic Neutral dungeon master by night, Dylan has been a DM for 10 years, and an avid fan of all things geekdom for far, far longer than that. Favorite class is eldritch theurge, because raw power doesn't need any limits.

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