Before we begin, I want to be clear - licensing a game system like D&D or Warhammer is still licensing another IP - the licensor still has a significant amount of creative control and veto power on many of the decisions made on the project. The licensor has input and veto power on many of the mechanical implementations as well as the narrative and world building aspects of the game. For today’s exercise, we’ll be putting aside the normal restrictions and approval process of using a license and treat things as if the licensor was super open to letting us do whatever we wanted. However, I just wanted to make clear that the licensor can easily demand arbitrary and specific means of adaptation.
The point of an adaptation isn’t to do a 1:1 exact duplication of the source material, but to bring the essence of the source material into a new medium for people to enjoy. This often means bringing the trappings and general feeling of the source material, but not necessarily the mechanical cruft and necessary rules. One of our major goals is to craft an experience that captures and conveys what makes the source material exciting and fun.
One example of mechanical rules that usually get lost in adaptation is how combat is handled mechanically. Most tabletop RPGs necessarily have turn-based combat because it is really difficult to handle real time combat in an in-person group setting. There’s a lot of logistical problems with many people all trying to act simultaneously, not to mention splitting the attention of the game master is incredibly difficult. However, video games operate at many times the speed of a human. As long as the players are doing things that are handled well by the system, combat can effectively run in real time for many players. Combat mechanics like chance to hit, damage rolls, number of attacks per turn, movement speed, spell casting time, and so on can be approximated with a real time turn duration. For players, these are nostalgic elements that will remind them that the game rules are based on a familiar ruleset, but generally feel better than having to wait 10+ minutes for their next turn to come up in combat.
Similarly, we can use the source material for concepts that have a different under-the-hood implementation within the game. In D&D, a skill check is generally handled as a d20 roll with an aggregate modifier based on ability stats, proficiency, equipment, circumstances, etc. These skills are typically a variety of actions that players can take - athletics to lift a heavy object, acrobatics to climb a rope, perception to spot danger, spellcraft to recognize magic when you observe it, and so on. A video game can use randomized results when a player chooses to perform such actions and we can allow players to spend skill points to train in these skills and improve their chances at success. That said, we don’t have to use the specific rules of D&D to determine the result. We can massage the numbers to feel better for the player and sand off more of the RNG frustration, while still showing a d20 roll to tickle the player nostalgia. The result feels a lot like an ability check to a D&D veteran, even though it is actually much more forgiving behind the curtain.
We make these adaptational changes to sand down the frustrating elements of the source material and make it a more enjoyable overall experience to the players who might be familiar with the license. There’s always going to be adaptational sacrifices - the needs of a game on one platform (e.g. tabletop necessitating turn-based mechanics) aren’t always important on a different platform. The important thing is to make sure we convey the spirit of the source material through the experiences and content we create. That is what the players (and licensor) are generally looking for.
Got a burning question you want answered?