There was a time when licensing intellectual properties was a lot more precious than it is in 2016, especially when it came to the field of role playing games. Chances were good that if players wanted a certain cinematic experience, they’d have to homebrew it themselves. There were, however, a few notable examples of licensees that tried to capitalize on a name and met with mixed success.
The list below includes five of our favorites, from the well-known to the way-out-there.
Ghostbusters: A Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game – West End Games
Really, this one was just ahead of its time. Published in the late 80’s, it lacked a Barnes and Noble style release that the same game would likely have now. Nothing intrinsically weird or bad about the rules either. Matter of fact, it went on to influence parent company West End Games’ Star Wars system as well.
Why It’s Awesome: GHOSTBUSTERS! It’s a faithful adaptation of both the movies and cartoons, with a small but robust supply of additional material including a module based on Ghostbusters II. A lighthearted introduction to roleplaying.
Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game – White Wolf, 1994
While adding a few new touches such as card-based combat resolution, Street Fighter was largely based on White Wolf’s rules seen in their other releases; Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf, and others. In theory, you could have Chun-Li go toe to toe with a Malkavian street artist or whatever while Guile gets his butt handed to him by your spell-slinger from The Order of Hermes. Which would be interesting.
Why it’s Awesome: At the height of the Street Fighter craze, this was a unique and informative piece of memorabilia for the rabid fan. It’s still a neat piece of nostalgia, and a must for the White Wolf completionist.
The World of Tales From The Crypt – West End Games, 1996
Tales From The Crypt is an amazing franchise, spanning decades and featuring comics, movies, and the iconic TV show from the ’90’s. The one thing that it doesn’t really have going for it? Any sort of narrative through-line that might loan itself to a continuing story. Like the kind one normally looks for in a tabletop RPG.
Why it’s Awesome: A really well-put together box set featuring the d6 rules that made the company’s games so decidedly versatile, there’s nothing bad about this except the high character mortality. Gotta hand it to West End Games, they really knew how to give you a shiny, clever package.
GURPS The Prisoner – Steve Jackson Games, 1989
If you’ve never seen or heard of The Prisoner, I invite you to take a peek at this iconic scene featuring THE OMINOUS ROVER.
Steve Jackson Games put their collective shoulders in to making a source book for their GURPS line based on the iconic ’60’s weirdness that JJ Abrams credits with influencing Lost. The further down the rabbit hole you go on The Prisoner, though, the harder it is to believe that most casual gaming groups would be able to wrap their heads around the psychological twists and turns the series presents. This one was undoubtedly for the collectors.
Why it’s Awesome: GURPS was one of the first really widely supported universal systems, and it’s simple rules allowed for a versatility that transcends genre. While The Prisoner might not have had the same visceral pop that say, a superhero or swords and sorcery campaign might have, it did bring a new level of clever play and intrigue to the system that was unique both then and now.
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai – Guardians of Order, 2000
Hands up, who’s heard of the movie Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai? Indie movie starring Forest Whitaker and RZA as hip-hop assassins taking on the Mafia? Yeah. Didn’t think so. Guardians of Order had a lot of success with their Big Eyes, Small Mouth line which also included a licensed Sailor Moon game. While they had an eye for Anime licenses, this one was definitely out there.
Why it’s Awesome: Sometimes you just gotta take a chance, man. This was an ambitious game based on esoteric source material and while it may not have sold a million copies (not even close), it’s an intriguing, singular entry based on a solid system that makes for a great conversation piece if nothing else. And if you have it, I’m coming over to play it NOW.
Missed your favorite off-the-wall licensed game? Tell us! Invite us over so we can play!
Feature Image Credit: West End Games/Columbia Pictures