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Adventures Ripped from the Headlines

If you’ve ever seen a preview for the TV show Law & Order, you’ve heard the phrase “a case ripped from the headlines.” You can take the same approach when you write adventures for your game — even if your game isn’t set in the modern world.

Here are a few ideas for turning news (and “news”) into scenario plots for your favorite RPG.

The basic principles for turning a news story into an adventure are the same whether you use real news or fake news, and whether or not your game is set in the modern world:

(As a GM, I’ve used fake news to come up with adventure ideas, but I haven’t tried it with real news — and oddly enough, I’ve also never actually run any of the ideas I came up with. So I’ve tried some of what I’m writing about here, but not all of it — if you spot any glaring omissions, please let me know!)

Fake News

Why news vs. “news?” Because fake news — the kind you find in tabloids like the Weekly World News — can make for great adventure ideas.

The modern horror RPG Dark Conspiracy actually incorporated this into the game itself. Folks “in the know” about the true nature of the world often work as tabloid reporters, and communicate with like-minded fellows — such as the PCs — through “news” that no one would believe.

I ran a few sessions of Dark Conspiracy, and my favorite thing about the game was being able to go to the supermarket, pick up a tabloid or two, and have instant inspiration for my game.

For game purposes, you can treat real news and fake news as being more or less identical: File off the serial numbers, tweak a few details, and you’ve got the kernel of an adventure.

Real News

If you are running a modern game, then turning headlines into adventures should be pretty straightforward: Change a few details, emphasize the elements that best fit your game, and you’re off.

With modern games that focus on fictional elements — Chill, present-day Call of Cthulhu, etc. — it’s often pretty easy to make up with connections to the game world that aren’t present in the news itself.

For example, if the morning paper reports unseasonably cold temperatures, that could easily be a sign that Ithaqua, a powerful entity connected to wind and winter in Call of Cthulhu, is gaining power in the region.

Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Other Genres

But what if you’re running a D&D game, or another RPG that’s not set in the modern world? The trick then is to take the basic elements of a news story and translate them into your game’s setting.

For example, if your Burning Wheel game is set in a world rife with enmity between elves and dwarves, you could spin a news item about an attack on a political figure into a session about a team of elven assassins trying to kill a dwarven leader.

All you should need to do is change a few key elements, adjust the flavor of the news story to fit your chosen genre/time period/setting, and you’ll have the basic framework of an adventure.

Good Taste

One key thing to remember is that most people don’t play RPGs to be reminded of how depressing the real world can be.

Take care with which news stories you choose — it’s best to avoid global tragedies, for example, unless your group is interested in exploring disturbing and mature themes.

Do you use the news in your game? If so, what are your favorite tricks for turning a news story into an adventure? Have you run any particularly memorable sessions based on news, real or fake?

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Adventures Ripped from the Headlines"

#1 Comment By ScottM On February 15, 2006 @ 3:35 pm

I’ve used this before, kindof. It was a modern day Mage game, set in Portland, Oregon. I used local (to them) newspapers to create ‘news’– if players watched the TV or read the newspapers, I’d mention a few news items. Some were reworked for plot significance (almost everything vaguely polution related was a plot of either Nephandi, the Technocracy, or Pentex). Since I had a very “back to nature” group, they followed up on some of the leads.

#2 Comment By Dave On February 15, 2006 @ 4:46 pm

“Alternative” news sites such as Fortean Times and other conspiracy theory sites are goldmines for modern horror/paranormal campaigns, and a lot of them can be ported to other genres as well with little work. Also watch any sort of “news of the weird” column which can vary from the mundane to the sublime. When it pays off, it is worth it.

#3 Comment By Martin On February 16, 2006 @ 10:31 pm

Thanks, Dave. 🙂

#4 Comment By DNAphil On February 20, 2006 @ 7:04 am

I use to run a Conspiracy X game, and when I needed a new conspiracy to inject into the game, I would go onto Yahoo news and I would find a few unrelated news articles, and then sit down and create a conspiracy on how all three articles would be related.

Then I would use the new conspiracy to fuel my material for several sessions. My first attempt at doing this, set the central mythology for my 2 year campaign. The news stories centered around a campus shooting in NJ and the death of the inventor of Prozac. It turned into a conspiracy about the creation of Combat Aggression Drugs and eventually explained a number of school shootings around the country.

Which I think brings me to one final point. When you do use news articles as story material, be sensitive to your group, and don’t use stories that may offend anyone. In my example above, I used several very real and tragic events to create a story for a game. Outside of my group this may seem very insenstive, but I knew that my group would not be offended, and I never made light of the events.

#5 Comment By Martin On February 21, 2006 @ 9:06 am

Phil: I love the idea of taking several events that aren’t connected and connecting them — that’s perfect fodder for a conspiracy game!

As an added bonus, I’m willing to bet that it made your group look more closely at real-world news, because of what happened in-game. 😉