Turning existing movie, book or TV show franchises into tabletop roleplaying campaigns isn’t always a great idea. In many cases the world depicted in these kinds of media exist only to facilitate one particular story. I understand the allure of using a franchise one loves in their roleplaying game campaign, but as I’ve found out in the past several times, it’s not easy as one thinks. There are of course exceptions to the rule and sometimes it might be worth just using the source material as inspiration while basically rewriting the whole thing to make it your own. Please note that there will be spoilers below!
Yeah, I know, Castlevania is first and foremost a video game franchise, but I want to focus mostly on the Netflix series and its first season at that since it creates the perfect starting point for a campaign. So what’s the series all about? This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
When his human wife is burned at the stake after being falsely accused of witchcraft, the vampire Vlad Dracula Țepeș declares all the people of Wallachia will pay with their lives. He summons an army of demons that overruns the country, slaughtering the population and leaving the survivors to live lives of fear and distrust. To combat this, Trevor Belmont, the last living member of a once-legendary family of monster hunters, takes up arms against Dracula’s forces, aided by the magician Sypha Belnades and Dracula’s dhampir son Alucard.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castlevania_(TV_series)
The setup is perfect for a dark fantasy campaign where players take on the role of monster hunters, half-vampires, magicians. There’s a big bad to be fought at the end, countless evil monsters to slay, innocents to rescue and adventures to be had. The kingdom of Wallachia was actually a real place which is now part of Romania. This means you can use real historical information and old maps in your game. Aside from that most people already know to expect when you tell them you want to run a campaign set in 18th century eastern Europe with Dracula as the big bad. In addition to that there are enough fantasy elements in the Castlevania series to easily adopt it to many fantasy TTRPGs out there including D&D. If you liked the Curse of Strahd, but wished it was even darker and set into the real world, you might want to check the series out.
For All Mankind
Imagine what would have happened if the USSR landed on the moon first. How would history have changed? That’s the premise of the Apple TV+ series For All Mankind. While there’s no shortage of terrible things happening, it’s first and foremost a story about hope. It’s about what mankind can and perhaps could have achieved. It’s a love letter to what NASA would have done if they had the funding. If you are interested in manned space flight, science fiction and alternate history, you owe it to yourself to check the series out.
The series itself focuses a lot on its ensemble cast and they are the ones who basically drive the story. This usually makes it hard to convert it to a roleplaying game if you want to stick to canon. My recommendation is to ignore canon and take inspiration from the story, but make the player characters the stars of the show. The premise itself is great especially if your players are avid space nerds. There’s also more than enough conflict within the setting to drive your campaign forward. Like with Castlevania the setting is basically an alternate version of Earth which make things much easier for the GM since they can draw upon real world information if needed.
Not to be confused with a more recent movie of the same name, Dark Skies was a short-live TV series about an aliens invading Earth during the 1960s. Its protagonists are John Loengard, aide to a member of Congress, and his girlfriend Kim Sayers who try to warn people of the alien invasion and fight the alien invasion. If you enjoy stories about grey aliens, Majestic-12, government conspiracies, you will probably like Dark Skies a lot. Unfortunately the series ended after just one season because of low ratings. The show runners actually had plans for five seasons with the last one being set into the early 2000s with the final conflict against the alien invaders as a focus.
What makes Dark Skies especially well-suited for a TTRPG campaign is that a GM can draw upon countless sources for inspiration. The internet is full of weird conspiracy theories about UFOs, aliens and government cover up. In addition to that the show’s “bible” survived and is available as a PDF (via Wayback Machine). Since the story ended after season one, there’s no risk of canon of getting in your way. The series provides a great premise for a campaign and then let’s you and your players take over.
These are just three examples of TV series which could easily be turned into roleplaying game campaigns. Have you ever used a TV series as a basis for a TTRPG campaign? What problems have you run into? Please share your thoughts below.
By the way, the featured image I’ve used is the result of the Bing AI Image Creator trying to come up with the cover image of a “Married With Children” tabletop RPG. ^_^