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I am an inexperienced GM. I have minimal to none experience game-mastering, although I DO have some experience as a player, and I wanted to prepare a game for a great friend of mine who is a very experienced GM and that never has a chance to play because people expect him to be the GM all the time. Given that I'm both an inexperienced member and game-master, and also not a native english speaker, I'd like to apologize in advance and ask you people for whom my language may seem weird or my ideas downright silly some patience when reading or answering this question.

So I've started to think about plots and ideas and a setting for a campaign. I've given up on creating a new world because I've never done it before and I'm afraid I wouldn't be up to his standards on the cohesion of it. I've also thought using an already existing scenario would be a bad idea because he knows much more than I do about most of them so it would be very hard to bring him something new, or entertaining.

I've come across an idea: to use an already-existing scenario not related to any role-playing game that has a great setting but no plot advance and create a plot from there. Ridiculous as it seems, the MOBA league of legends seems to meet those requirements, and I am heavily thinking about starting a game using the Runeterra scenario. Although he could always research it, I don't think this friend of mine has ever played the game or remotely thought of it as a source of ideas for any game, so I'd at least be trying something new"

It raises a lot of questions, though, if this IS a viable idea. Are there any chances that this is a terrible option? Why? Any advice?

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As an aside, GMs everywhere often fall into this trap of always running games. So it's a great thing of you to volunteer a game that your regular GM can sit back and be a player in. I'm sure he's been waiting for such an opportunity for quite some time. –  Grubermensch Apr 2 at 22:30
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The "4e is closer to MMO games" usually refers to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, because of the classes being tied to roles in the tank/healer/DPSer trifecta. While MOBAs get roles and champions/heroes are usually tied to those roles (mid or feed, solo top, jungler, support, carry), there's not a common chassis to those classes like a parrying mechanic for all the tanks - which in 4e would be the presence of a mark or defender aura for defenders. While the answers you've been given are still ok, don't think LoL is ok because it's a MMO game. The two things are unrelated. –  Zachiel Apr 3 at 9:29
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Welcome to RPG.SE! I would like to mention that while accepting an answer is good, accepting it after waiting at least a couple of days is better. If you don't really users a chance to answer your question, how can you know which one is the right one to accept? Also, it tends to encourage more and better answers when you wait some. Not a big deal, just a thing I notice (and mention) with some new members. As a guy who mostly runs games, I appreciate your efforts and hope your game goes great! –  gomad Apr 3 at 14:28
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My RPGing friends and I have a saying about GMing: "When in doubt, plagiarise shamelessly" - as long as you aren't publishing your shamelessly plagiarized material in any publicly accessible way. –  Monty Wild Apr 3 at 22:51
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8 Answers 8

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Borrowing worlds from other sources is a perennial tradition among GMs who for whatever reason aren't building their own worlds. There's nothing wrong with this approach to running a game, especially for a new GM who would rather focus on learning to run. That being said, there are a couple of things to watch out for when doing this:

The setting is a starting point

The greatest benefit of using an established setting is that someone else has done the hard work of building all of this content for you. This can also lead into the greatest trap of an established setting. It's important to know when you can deviate from the established setting, and when you can handwave away the irrelevant points of it. At the end of the day, you're not playing League of Legends, you're playing D&D (or whatever system you settle on). If parts of the background aren't working well for the game you're running, just smooth over them and get back to what you and your players really care about.

Related to this point is that you should make an effort to "own" the game. Someone else wrote the setting, fine. But the adventure should feel like something that you didn't just find somewhere. Make an effort to differentiate it, since you're going to the trouble of writing one yourself. And don't be afraid to do terrible things to pieces of the setting; it's your game now.

Your players might have different assumptions

I'll assume that you are decently familiar with the setting you're going to use. Your friend seems to not know a thing about it. Possibly there will be some members of the rest of your group who know more than you. It's important to be aware of how much (and how little) you can rely on shared assumptions. This is also a place you'll want to look out for metagaming from the players who know the setting better. Number one tip here is to always make sure everybody is getting the same impression of what's going on.

The system should fit the setting

This gets to your last question. In general, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a system that fits your game, and I wouldn't worry over picking editions of DnD for this. The major concern is the kind of setting the system is designed for, and all of DnD is designed for the same general fantasy worlds (which could work fine here).

What you shouldn't use is a system that was designed to do something else (unless you have a really good justification). So, I don't recommend using this setting with, say, Shadowrun because the setting assumptions are different. As a new GM, if you know 3.5/Pathfinder best, then stick with those. The less you have to figure out at the table while your players are waiting on you, the better.

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One of the cool things about RPGs and GMing is that you can borrow from any media for your inspirations. I do it all the time, mixing and matching ideas to create something new and obscure (or lampshade depending on the genre) the tropes of the source material.

The issues that I'd caution about:

  1. If you're going to publish your campaign on an RPG game site (Obsidian Portal, Epic Words, or even your own), be very aware that using things in this fashion can be considered a form of plagiarism, especially considering how closely you're following the other ideas, and can get you DMCA'd if you aren't careful. This is very unlikely, though I was contacted by the author of a book when he was preparing to create an RPG based on his source. It was a good conversation, but it could have gone worse.
  2. The point about the plot being public is a consideration before, during, and even after the campaign. I'd not try to camouflage that from the players, but let them know that you're planning to borrow ideas from the campaign from your source, and do they have familiarity with it/would they be willing to not spoil the campaign. Work with them in advance, and it will be a better experience, IMO.
  3. When using some sort of background that the players are experienced with, they will expect certain things in the way of abilities and key things that we as players like to latch on to. Make sure that they know that this is based on your version of the source material- and will not strictly follow it.

But other than that, the sky is the limit, in my experience.

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I've never had problems with basing settings and adventures on published material. The differences between the PCs and the original's protagonists, changes to the setting caused by the players interfering, and random die rolls tend to make the game diverge enough from the original's plot that everything turns out differently anyway. Those all depend on your playstyle and players, though, so YMMV. –  GMJoe Apr 3 at 3:43

As everyone said, yes you can, and yes we all have done it at some point or other.

Only two things to avoid, and one thing to prepare:

  • Avoid too literal adaptations. When a story is adapted from a media to another, it should be changed so that it fits better in the new media. Change whatever is needed to better fit the game, the players, etc... Example: if you adapt The Lords of the Rings' story, you should make more balanced characters, or you could change how magic work.
  • Avoid also railroading the characters into taking some actions, or forcing the story in a direction. Computer games used to have very linear plots, but linear plots are very frustrating in an infinite-choices game. Don't feel constrained by the needing the story to happen in the same exact way. Example: if you adapt The Lord of the Rings' story, you shouldn't force the party split, some characters' deaths or corruption, or some alliances with evil creatures.
  • Be always prepared to improvise, as the friend Lohoris suggests. Try to know well the setting in case the adventure derails onto unforeseen paths. If you don't know the setting or if the setting really doesn't cover what is needed, make it up in advance. If you haven't made something up that you suddenly need, be fast to come up with something so that your players don't feel the world is incomplete.

My answer is a bit general for translating media, and the examples are from books rather than MMOs. My knowledge of MMO games is quite low, but I think the advice is general enough to cover them too.

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+1 for "avoid railroading". Over-planned and fixed plot risks annoying players that may be expecting more agency for their characters. It doesn't matter how great that same piece of plot was in a book/film/computer game if the players resent their characters being puppets. –  Neil Slater Apr 3 at 8:28
    
@NeilSlater Yeah, and for some reason, we GMs seem more inclined to railroading when following another one's plot, even if we are playing a published module adventure, than if we made up all the story. –  Flamma Apr 3 at 15:43
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These are two great points that should really be taken into account. I would suggest to be always prepared to improvise! You never know a setting good enough to have all the answers, and this particular setting might even not have at all some details: you should be ready to make them up. –  Lohoris Apr 4 at 13:09
    
@Lohoris I included your suggestion. –  Flamma Apr 4 at 15:34
    
@Flamma great, thanks! You were able to state it much more clearly than I did! : ) –  Lohoris Apr 4 at 21:36

Only answering because I think the existing answers are 10x too long.

Yes, it's fine.

If you're new to GMing, stick with the system you know so you can focus on actually GMing.

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Imho, as @Grubermensch pointed out before, most GM fall in the trap of always runing games, so no doubt that he really wants to play. If he's an experienced GM and a great friend of yours, he's likely to be patient and won't in any case his own "metagaming" screw your efforts to have a good time.

How do you feel when you assist a lecture and the speaker gets nervous and start blabbering? If you are like most people on this planet, you probably feel bad about him and would want to do everything possible to make him recover

You can use a setting for another game, but I suggest sticking with whatever you know better so you can focus on GMing. Also, try to find "short adventures" and borrow stuff from there or just focus on creating different kinds of encounters so they can be memorable. Maybe you can use a different style, or an official campaign setting that your friend doesn't know. Maybe he is versed in Forgetten realms, but does he know Eberron? Dragonlance? or Dark Sun?

I also suggest that you start creating/modifying the world from the inside-out, so in the beginning you don't need to have every detail about the world, and you can spice it up as the game goes on.

Don't get nervous about your game, don't forget that everyone on the table wants to have fun! :D

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Borrowing Is Best When the Best Is Borrowed

In general, borrowing the best available plots is a good thing. The problem with borrowing from MMO's is that many times, the plots are not that good.

If you are going to borrow from an MMO, you need to borrow only the best plots. Be picky. But also, realize that not all MMO plots adapt well to tabletop play, either.

How to Borrow

It's not just important to borrow the best, but to borrow correctly.

If you directly borrow from your favorite MMO's best plotlines, odds are good your players will recognize them, too. The solution is to boil them down, and make one or two key changes. Either change the solution item, or the destination, or the pacing.

Further, keep in mind that MMO's are actually solitaire - most quests are in fact doable solo. Adapting the quest for group play may require changing it by adding additional skill based challenges, or by adding elements specific for other classes.

In some cases, the best solution is to combine multiple missions together - pick two similar plotlines aimed at different classes, and turn them into a single quest for your players.

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For a beginner GM it might be easier to go for a smaller system than D&D. Earlier editions of D&D can be difficult to learn at first, because there are so many subsystems and minor rules scattered about, and later editions have such a large amount of extra material available that it can be a major headache to learn it all. Since you say you know D&D 3.5e and PF best, I'd suggest going with those, but if the other players regularly reference rules that you don't know, it might be better to move to a smaller system that has a similar rules-set (there are many fantasy d20 systems, although selecting a suitable one would be its own question).

D&D 4e would, in my opinion, be a poor choice if you only want it for an 'MMO-like feel'. In most cases where I have heard people express this opinion, it was in a derogatory way. Either way, the amount of time you'd need to learn a system as large and complex as D&D 4e would probably be put to much better use refining your setting and plot.

I don't think there are many inherent problems with using the League of Legends setting as the setting for a campaign. However, the pitfalls that do spring to mind are that in LoL, every Champion has a unique ability set that is limited to 4 active abilities at most (for example, Teemo's Toxic Shot is a passive and so he only has 3 actives), and many of these won't have an equivalent in whatever system you choose to use - with over 400 abilities, you're going to have to cut a lot of Champions and abilities out entirely. This makes it impractical to have Champions as the PCs and major NPCs (basically, you can't replace the adventurer classes with LoL Champions).

However, if you only use the setting and at most one or two Champions as NPCs, then the mechanics issues are removed. You can then have the world run on whatever system you choose and use the background from LoL to run adventures in. It's definitely possible, and there's a lot of fan-created content out there you can use such as maps and fanart.

Overall, I'd say go for it, but be careful with your choice of system and accept that while you can use the background, you'd have major issues using more than a couple of Champions or letting a PC play a Champion due to time and balance issues.

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The idea of borrowing ideas from any other source to inspire your campaign is fine - as the other answers say it's a very common practice. After all even a completely new world such as the one I'm using for my current campaign borrows a lot of fantasy ideas like races, monsters, treasure, classes, etc from other sources.

Having said that though I strongly recommend as a newbie GM that you either go with an established setting or you go with a setting close enough to the established ones that you can take an adventure written for the standard ones and run that.

Designing a good adventure is hard, and takes a lot of practice. Start out by running existing ones, then after you have done a few of those start varying them and mixing it up (changing some monsters around, adding new rooms or passages, etc) and then work up towards creating a brand new adventure after you've played through some pre-made ones.

If he's an experienced GM he's probably familiar with a lot of the "standard" adventures but he won't have played them all, so do some research find a few that look interesting then ask him which one's he's familiar with and pick one of the others to run.

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