Sometimes I need a character type, say a lawyer and I start thinking about lawyers I know from TV or movies, like Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad. I have this general urge to just straight up rip the character off, and include them as is in the chronicle. So my chronicle would end up with Saul Goodman the lawyer. I haven't actually done this yet, but I'm thinking about it. Asside from the plagiaristic, and rather uncreative aspects, are there any problems with doing this? Does anyone have any good or bad experience with this?

update it's worth noting that I'm not considering doing anything as ludicrous as putting Darth Vader into the World of Darkness. Rather I'm considering characters who would fit in seedier aspects of the World of Darkness mortal world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for context - this is often referred to as an Expy, an exported character from one franchise to another, usually as a homage or reworking. If it's good for the dozens of TV shows, films and novels listed there, it's probably good for you too. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – lisardggY
    Oct 26, 2014 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ It becomes plagiarism only if you refuse to acknowledge the source/inspiration and claim it to be entirely your own creation. It becomes uncreative only if you take everything as-is without adding anything of your own devising. \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Oct 27, 2014 at 9:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ My best vampire character ever is taken directly from XVIII century play "A glass of water". Character, appearance, attitude. Epic counterintrigues of Abigail in modern Moscow were our most inspired game. I miss that time. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2014 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me, it's not a matter of creativity. The danger is that you will use the allusion as a crutch such that you don't provide the character as much background as you normally would, and the consumers of your work will not be as familiar with your borrowed character. This is the fatal flaw of fan fiction, in my opinion. "I'll just use the name, then I can skip description." If you do it right, using telling alias for those familiar with the borrowed work, those unfamiliar will not notice, but those familiar will find the insider allusion quite entertaining. \$\endgroup\$
    – Aaron Hall
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:06

5 Answers 5


Using other characters is a great way to save time. The key to doing it well is the adapt the character to your setting. You want it to feel like Saul Goodman belongs in the story, even if you are fighting an interstellar war or casting Magic Missile.

Give your character a new name. Depending on how cheeky you feel, it can be a name that's a clear homage to the inspiration character ("Sam Goreman", "Sal Bonhomme", "Good Solomon", etc,), or something completely new that's setting-appropriate. Once your character has its own name, it can more easily be a separate person in people's minds from the inspiration character. Your Saul is going to do things that are specific to your story, and will start on a path that's divergent from Breaking Bad as soon as he first appears in a game.

Adapt your character's backstory or occupation for the setting. A 20th century cop, an old west sheriff, an imperial storm trooper, and a shire reeve are all approximate analogs of the same societal role. Pick something that makes sense in your game's setting.


The Bad

As you stated, it's not as creative as doing it yourself. Some may scoff at that. Many are the GMs and Players who have taken a character wholesale from other media without any effort to adapt them. "Anime characters? In MY D&D?" Them's fightin' words, so to speak.

The Good

So what if it's not as creative as a DIY job? Do you make the pizza from scratch on game night or are you satisfied with ordering out and using your time on more important parts of the night--like plot, maps, and characters?

Using a character from other media can give you more bang for your planning buck, so long as you take a few minutes to adapt them to your group's liking. If your group is fine with the Shire Reeve being John Wayne in his cowboy hat assisted by his lovely wife Sailor Moon, then it'll be easy. (Also please invite me, I want whatever liquor you're serving!) But if you adapt him, make a frontier settler who fought off orc raids heroically and was rewarded by being made Shire Reeve, then you can convey a lot of info to your players in short order about the character, not break theme too much, and all without spending hours on details that may not come up directly. Something I forgot to mention in the first draft: Utilizing IDENTIFIABLE characters or character types from other media is also helpful because the character comes "front-loaded" with information and expectations in the players' minds. This can GREATLY speed things up... So don't adapt too heavily without considering this.

The Ugly

I'm going to give you a tool that will help you adapt characters better. It will help you break down key, UNIVERSAL traits to any character you want to adapt. Be warned, it is powerful magic. If you stare directly into it, this magical tool will reach into your very soul and steal a day of your life. You have been warned. Here it is:


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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for TV Tropes (it will ruin your life, it even has a page describing how!). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 26, 2014 at 19:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Robin Laws wrote a bit about growing interesting PCs from Hollywood-cliche characters - this is sound advice. I should go find a link, I suppose. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 28, 2014 at 8:04

In the campaign I'm DMing right now, I have a bunch of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic characters scattered around the area. Except for the librarian at the Arcane College (Twilight Sparkle), the rest of them are all inconsequential background characters that are doing their own thing and aren't really involved in the story. My players find this pretty amusing and like finding/interacting with them when it comes up.

They Make Good Secondary Characters And Save Prep Time

One of the reasons I did that is that I'm a fan and thought it was fun. Another reason is that I do not find creating character personalities the easiest thing in the world to do, and populating a world requires a lot of them. Borrowing characters that you are already familiar with lets you save a lot of time and populates the world. I already know how they act, what their names are, where they likely live/work, etc.

I've also found that most players find it fun, especially if they enjoy the story that you're borrowing from. Your mileage may vary, but as secondary characters, any that your players don't like are usually easy for them to avoid (or for you to write out of the story).

Primary Characters - It's About Execution

If the character you're borrowing is a major element of your story, then it gets trickier. You can't just get rid of them if your players don't like it. In addition, if your players are familiar with the character already, they're going to expect it to behave a certain way based on what they already know about it. Deviating from that too much will make them question why you used it at all.

If done well, it can work really well. As I mentioned, Twilight is in my game, and she's worked out really well as a character. I think the key to that was that I don't just rely on people knowing her from the show. It started that way, but she's got her own motivations in my campaign, and I've put a lot of effort into developing her and her place in the world.

Use the character you're borrowing as a starting point, and I think it can work really well, as long as you put the effort in to ensure that the character feels like they belong in your world.

If you just rely on "hey, it's that guy!", it likely won't work very well.


One of my concerns with doing this is that it can make it really hard for your players to separate their player knowledge from their character knowledge - if there's a character in your chronicle who looks like Saul Goodman, talks like Saul Goodman and acts like Saul Goodman, then it's going to be pretty hard for any of your players who know of the "original" Saul Goodman not to, at least unconsciously, to begin using their knowledge of Saul in-game. That may not be a problem if the character has only a minor role in your chronicle, or if the character is fairly straight, but imagine what would happen in your chronicle if "Verbal Kint" walked in...

(That link is to Wikipedia, which is an enormous spoiler for The Usual Suspects. If you've never watched it, don't click on that link).

  • \$\begingroup\$ "One of my concerns with doing this is that it can make it really hard for your players to separate their player knowledge from their character knowledge" Why is this bad, even when applied to more major NPCs? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 27, 2014 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Depends on your social contract - if your games have a strong separation between character knowledge and player knowledge (as mine tend to), then things like this add a meta-game challenge for the players to keep them separate. That may not be something your players want to (or are good at) dealing with. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 27, 2014 at 9:21

No example is coming to mind where I was really happy about making essentially a copy of a character from some other media, thinly changing it (e.g. changing name and hair color and adapting equipment or other minor changes) and using it in an RPG, either when I did it, or when someone else did. I find it has too much input from the original, that doesn't make complete sense in the game world, and is more or less weird. The more people are aware of it, the worse that feeling is, for me. I have seen some players not mind or even seem to enjoy the "joke" or riff aspect, which I can also appreciate, but the weirdness just seems wrong in a way that's more important to me than the humor, unless it's a one-session game rather than a game world that I want to keep playing in, because I like my game worlds to be self-consistent. I don't want intrusions from copies of TV or even Shakespeare being the reason why some character is the way they are.

For example, I tried making a couple of NPC's based on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, just changing the names and putting them in a medieval fantasy RPG, so they needed to use crossbows rather than pistols. I gave them crazy skills, and even drew wanted posters of them which were obviously me drawing faces like Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They were also bad because they would have likely easily and too-quickly killed any PC's who got in their way. I'm still embarrassed enough I almost didn't admit it here! Fortunately, I was embarrassed enough to realize it was a bad idea, and never actually used them in play, and decided they didn't exist or would be changed to be two appropriate bandits with nothing like the original film characters except they were a pair of dangerous wanted bandits.

That said, I do think that limited aspects of some known characters can be used in RPG characters without being illogical or weird at all. For me, as long as it is a rational character in the game world, who happens to have some trait that is like some character from some other media, but in a way that makes sense, then it tends to be fine.

For example, I made an NPC who was partly inspired by Indiana Jones. He carried a whip and rope and was athletic, liked exploring interesting places more than fighting, and would try unconventional approaches and wasn't really a front-line fighter. But he wasn't ridiculously skillful, didn't look like Harrison Ford, had a very different personality, wasn't really like Indiana Jones in any other ways, and ended up being a pretty unique and interesting, likeable NPC.

I can think of more subtle examples too, but the above two seem like good illustrative examples.

I can think of a few RPG sessions that used film characters well, but they used the actual character, in amusing ways, and that did still mess with the game world to have them exist in it, but they were settings which saw limited use, the use of those characters was part of the theme, and they were funny about it in a consistent way.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But "doesn't make complete sense in the game world, and is more or less weird" would be completely at home at many game tables. I'm not sure your examples here really make a general point. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Oct 27, 2014 at 8:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Since the question is, "is it a bad idea..." and "Does anyone have any good or bad experience with this?", I don't see why this answer needs more acknowledgement of those with weird and nonsensical tastes than I already put in it. Ya it can be funny or interesting or help some people understand a character, but it can be weirder than one might expect, the more similar a character is. Some players even get annoyed when an unintentional over-similarity is noticed and responded to. Players who are totally happy with weird nonsense of course exist and likely won't even read this. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Oct 27, 2014 at 18:55

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