Recycling isn’t just for paper & plastics anymore. Turns out you can recycle anything, even art. A popular exercise in many internet music circles is the Mashup, two or more distinct tracks chopped & screwed together to make one new piece of art, that would not have been possible without the presence of the old. I’m a fan of mashups, they allow me a new perspective on both the old and the new and I’m fascinated by the effort that goes into the more complicated ones.
Mashups turn the experience of enjoying music from a passive one (Artist creates music, I listen to music) into an active one (Artist creates music, I listen to music, I transform music into something new, gaining new appreciation for the original and enjoying a hand in creation, someone down the line enjoys the transformed music). On a basic level all roleplaying games are mashups. At some stage the designer of an RPG has created a piece of art. Game books are fantastic artifacts, the best of them featuring elegantly composed text, evocative artwork, mechanics presented in ways that inspire us upon reading. We as consumers of these products take them and transform them on our own, processing all of the art (visual, mechanical, and textual) and perform this transformation live at the table for people who then (hopefully) enjoy the experience.
We are the medium through which the original art has been processed, and no two GMs will produce the same game.
But I’m always interested in pushing one step farther into analysis, so I’m looking for more ways to mashup RPGs, to transform the art and have a more active role in the production of my experience. A common practice among gamers is to hack their favorite games, to alter and transform the mechanics of games to produce something new. Hacking to me feels more like remixing music, similar to making mashups but not quite what I’m after. Certainly the practices I’ll describe here could be seen as hacking, but the intent here is not to alter or change a game’s structure or execution, but rather to introduce identifiable and distinct elements that together create a new experience rather than altering existing structures to create a new lens on which to experience the art of roleplaying games.
People don't mix and match PbtA playbooks nearly as much as I want.
— James Malloy, Tide Commercial (@AndTheMeltdowns) January 23, 2018
One way to run a mashup game is to utilize character options from compatible systems, for example, running a vibrant Beacon from Magpie Games’ Super-Youths game, Masks in the melodramatically black & white Noir World by John Adamus. Game systems like Cypher, D20, PbtA, all build themselves off of the same engines, which makes it easy to smooth out any wrinkles in combining their different elements. Think of this like taking two music tracks that have the same key and tempo and mixing & matching. If I take this class from this game, the feats from this other one, and the spell list from a third, I’ve created either an unplayable nightmare or an optimization board’s dream. Where the final cog in the equation comes in is justifying the disparate parts and finding the synthesis that makes the whole concoction sing. Mashups need to go beyond “here are two things that are now one”, they need to have a thematic throughline that produces the magic. What does it mean that these elements come together, what do you get out of this new combination? What message is your story telling if The Beacon, a paragon of optimism, finds themselves in the gritty world of film noir? Your job will be to make that story fit, and make the mashup compelling.
Join me in the next article for another way to mashup your RPG experience that redefines how you approach some of your favorite texts.