Over the next few weeks, Lost in Translation will be looking at how to adapt settings from tabletop RPGs. The benefit of these settings is that a lot of the hard work, the world building, is already done. The settings also have a built-in audience, though one that isn’t as large as fans of Marvel or DC comics. The games also provide for an idea for a plot.

The settings to be looked at will all be created for the game. Yes, there are licensed RPGs, but that makes the RPG the adaptation. In the next few weeks, the idea is to see how a setting or game can be adapted using case studies and what would be the best format. Some games publishers have seen the potential and have licensed tie-in novels, to varying degrees of success.

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Lost in Translation has covered a Dragonlance adaptation, the 2008 animated film, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, based on the novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, which itself was based on the DL-series of modules released starting in 1982. The published adventures and the novels covered the War of the Lance as the heroes, Tanis Half-Elven, Raistlin and Caramon Majere, Goldmoon, Riverwind, Flint Fireforge, Tasslehoff Burrfoot, Sturm Brightblade, and, later, Tika Waylan, work to unite the nations of Krynn and recover the fabled Dragonlances, magical weapons capable of killing dragons. The story is an epic battle between good and evil, where gods walk the world.

The animated film showed the problems of trying to fit a novel into a ninety minute movie. The movie was accurate, but lost details and depth trying to get as much story on screen as possible. However, the world of Dragonlance, Krynn, has much more to it than shown in the novels. Game settings need a world for players to adventure in, even if the novels’ heroes are doing the heavy lifting. The setting includes two elven nations at odds with each other; the Silvanesti being insular and hidebound compared to the Qualinesti, who are hostile to outsiders. Yet, there’s room to deal with the corruption of the Silvanesti by the green dragon Beryl. Evil isn’t just afoot, it’s on the march.

There’s several ways to adapt the Dragonlance setting. The obvious one is to adapt the novels and learn the lessons from the 2008 animated movie. The core of the novels is the interaction between the characters; this draws from each character being played during playtesting of the modules. Film run times, even the longer ones at 150-180 minutes, don’t have the space for deep characterization, especially with a large cast. Add in battle scenes and there’s even less time for character moments. However, as A Game of Thrones demonstrated, television has the time to delve into a larger cast of characters. Unlike A Game of Thrones, the War of the Lance is complete. No waiting for the next book to be written.

Another option is to have new characters in a different part of Krynn as they fight in the War of the Lance. The drawback will be that the adaptation won’t have the characters fans are familiar with. However, DC Comics did have a short-lived Dragonlance comic in 1988 that featured new characters. Again, the best route would be television; a movie’s run time won’t be enough to get the background info across without taking away from screen time for the main plot.

If a film adaptation is needed, the best approach would be to break down each book to find good break points. This will turn a three book series into a six movies or more, but the loss of what the fans want will be minimized. The large cast will still be an issue, but might be handled better with the run times of half a dozen films.

The setting has a history and a future. Works have been set before the Cataclysm that marked the withdrawal of the gods from the world; others have been set after the War of the Lance. Dragonlance Legends involved magical time travel, so there are possibilities. The drawback is introducing the setting to a broader audience. Fans will know what the Cataclysm is; someone new to the setting won’t.

Dragonlance is a popular setting, with a greater success through the novels released, There is a fan base, but the setting can be closed to a more general audience. A successful adaptation will have to take the characters fans love and introduce the plot in a way that doesn’t leave the broader audience scratching their heads.


This article was originally published at Seventh Sanctum.

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