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Scrap It For Parts

Posted By Patrick Benson On September 16, 2011 @ 12:00 am In GMing Advice | 13 Comments

Over 20 plus years of gaming I have accumulated a lot of dud games, supplements, and adventure modules. Some I purchased and some were given to me, but all of them did not succeed as commercial ventures.

What can a GM do with a failed RPG product? Do what any scrapyard would do: Scrap the whole thing down to its individual parts.

For instance, I have a lot of adventure modules that just did not have a good flow to them. When I read these adventures I chuckle because they are bad. The encounters might be ludicrous or the plots are childish, but that is because I am criticizing the work as a whole.

When I look at these adventures as a collection of parts my opinion changes. Some of the encounters are interesting and quite challenging. There might be a riddle or puzzle that I can make use of. There are inventive magic items, sci-fi gear, and paranormal oddities that I can easily convert to the game system of my choice.

The same is true of the RPGs and supplements. There might be a rule that I can adapt to use in my current game, or perhaps a chart that I can take advantage of for my next session. I might find a map that I can turn into a handout, or a picture that I can use to show what an NPC looks like.

The best part is that because these products failed my players are unlikely to have a copy. I do not have to worry as much about someone knowing any of the secrets that might be part of the game just because they read the same product that I did. Even if a player should happen to have the same product it is unlikely that they will recognize a single part from that product by itself.

Like a Frankenstein’s monster I can stitch together all of these parts to create a completely new and unique creation. It takes less time than preparing everything from scratch, but it is more fun and often has better results than if I ran a published adventure.

So do not throw away those failed products from your RPG collection! Dust off those lousy adventures and horrible supplements. Take out your imagination’s scalpel and dissect each product for the best parts that are just begging to be used, and then bolt them together with your creativity to make a hybrid masterpiece to wow your players with (while saving you time as well).

Agree? Disagree? Have you done this yourself? Tell us how it worked for you by leaving a comment below.

About  Patrick Benson

Patrick was born in 1975, and is more or less your typical American male for someone of his age. Except he is a tabletop RPG gamer and a damn fine game master! What else matters?




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13 Comments To "Scrap It For Parts"

#1 Comment By Riklurt On September 16, 2011 @ 3:08 am

I recognize this approach. We all have our weaknesses as GMs – one of mine is maps. I’m terrible at making maps, particularly dungeons and blueprints of buildings.

Fortunately, I have a stash of backup maps in case I need one: My father’s old D&D second edition modules. I’ve never played D&D second edition (I was only 12 when 3rd edition came out), and I have no idea how to even interpret the rules, but it’s a great resource to loot maps from. On occasion I will also use a picture or a piece of setting that I happen to like, but maps in particular are great loot, chiefly for two reasons:

One, they are often much easier to convert between systems than say, monsters or NPCs. The only mechanical aspect of maps are usually traps, environmental troubles, and puzzles, and those are generally pretty straightforward to convert (most systems have decent rules for things like trapdoors or poisonous plants, and puzzles usually don’t hinge too much on system).

Two, they take time to make by yourself. It’s not terribly time consuming to throw together stats for a monster or NPC, but maps can take a lot of time to draw and fill with stuff, at least for me.

So yeah, that’s my tip: Steal maps. Even if they don’t fit your game exactly, it’s still a lot faster to change a few rooms or locations than it is to think up an entire city or dungeon from scratch.

#2 Comment By Svengaard On September 16, 2011 @ 6:37 am

One thing I always try to look at even if the game fails is all the GMing tips. Yeah, yeah, I know the website I’m posting this on.
The GM sections often contain ideas that can be moved from one system to another. I believe Witchcraft had a mook idea, NPCs with halved HP so they’d die fast and in droves. D&D 4th later borrowed this. BESM had the “Watch lots of anime” idea for its GM: Spread that to any system and it makes sense. Running Sci-fi? Watch more Star Trek or Star Wars.
Background information for world building is great too. D&D had some great ideas for fleshing out gods and religions, borrow a few dieties, change a few names, and the players will never know.
Now I have this urge to go find my old D&D books to flip through again.

#3 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 16, 2011 @ 9:31 am

@Riklurt – That is a wonderful use of old material, but now I feel old because I used to play 2nd Edition. ;)

@Svengaard – That is a perfect example of how a bad system might have gems in the form of its parts. Salvage whatever you can from the material.

#4 Comment By BryanB On September 16, 2011 @ 9:58 am

I love to steal maps and NPC bios from older adventures. The maps in particular save me a lot of time. Dungeon Magazine was particularly awesome for the maps you could find in there. Very useful. I miss Dungeon Magazine (printed).

#5 Comment By Roxysteve On September 16, 2011 @ 10:29 am

Maps, yeah. I often buy old boxed sets or bound supplements of long-dead games just to get the wilderness maps, but that is because I love to look at them and zone out in imagined adventures more than anything else.

I’m totally into scrapping out game stuff in general, and stealing stuff to re-use in places hardly envisaged by the author(s).

Picture this:

Castle Greyhawk, site of a modern-day ren-fayre and re-enactment convention. Selected media guests and speakers (i.e. PCs) are given accommodation in the castle itself. Friday night is a meet and greet. Saturday is the main Fayre day. Saturday night is a costume ball, contest and banquet. Sunday morning everyone awakens to find the Zombie Apocalypse has hit, and it’s everyone into the extensive basement complex to escape the ravening (and ravenous) hordes eager to show the players that all flesh must be eaten.

#6 Comment By Roxysteve On September 16, 2011 @ 10:30 am

@BryanB – [Dungeon Mag.] Agree.

#7 Comment By Lee Hanna On September 16, 2011 @ 10:43 am

This is what I do for a lot of my adventures. I grab an NPC/villain from here, the map from there, and maybe a monster from somewhere else. I’ve found that I am terrible at creating things from whole cloth, but if I can see a connection between two adventures, I’m of and running.

Some years ago, I pawed through a friend’s near-complete collection of Dungeon magazine, taking notes on what I found. I think I could stitch together three campaign themes from what I found, and so far, I’ve run one of them.

#8 Comment By DNAphil On September 16, 2011 @ 10:46 am

@Patrick …I use to play 1e.

I am a fan of cannibalizing material from other games. I love buying games, So I always have a few rule books that I bought laying around.

Maps are very popular for me to grab, as well as star ships, weapons, and a few mechanics (read: Aspects).

#9 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 16, 2011 @ 11:56 am

@BryanB – Maps are something that I never really enjoyed creating. Random generators or existing floor plans are what I prefer to use with maybe a tweak or two.

@Roxysteve – That is the great thing about scrapping whole products for the parts – you are not bound to the setting or system from which the parts are taken.

@Lee Hanna – That is definitely an example of what this article describes being put into actual practice.

@DNAphil – Yep. I played 1e too, but I had cut my teeth on the basic edition, and then 2e before someone ran 1e for me.

#10 Comment By epicfreak On September 16, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

What I do with lousy RPG stuff is take any ideas I can and put them in my “idea pool” (text files, broken down into various categories) then trade it away at rpg.net or Noble Knight so I can get more ideas from other lousy products – or preferably, get something good, and worth keeping.

#11 Comment By Wormys_Queue On September 16, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

I’m doing this all the time as well. Sometimes I even get use out of bad ideas, because spotting such a bad idea automatically makes me think about how to do it better. And naturally I’m making heavy use of maps and other artwork because quite frankly, that’s one of my greatest weaknesses.

#12 Comment By shadowacid On September 17, 2011 @ 4:25 am

Often times I find that published modules are just poorly organized (I’m looking at you Shadowrun), or are loaded with too much bakground info that will never come up in play. All that extra info usually ends up obfuscating what the point of the adventure is to begin with.

So when I find a module with something I like I always go through and read it from front to back, then I go and re-write what the actual arc of the adventure is from the PC’s point of view. From there I make changes as needed for my own game, maybe insert a recurring NPC instead of the published one, and really customize it for my group.

It’s worked really well so far for my games.

#13 Comment By ggodo On September 20, 2011 @ 1:53 am

@shadowacid – I’ve been running the Dawn of The Artifacts series for SR and it’s really been bothering me how they can’t keep straight how much info they’re assuming the PCs have. Tons of stuff is given for the DM to keep track of NPC knowledge, and they’ll emphasis that the player’s shouldn’t know, then the next page the plot can’t continue unless the players magically know what they aren’t supposed to be able to find out yet. Also, I think it’s odd that the fourth one treats it like the players are on first name basis with one of the most powerful shadowplayers in the world, when in the third adventure they had to make a moderately specialized knowledge check to recognize him, and him intentionally doesn’t say who he is. I find myself making my own list of notes on the player perspective as well.


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