Hello students. This week, faculty member Andrew Young (@ThatOneGM) and I continue a series that should prove exciting and useful to you all. Enjoy!
Power Rangers was not a good movie, but it was a fantastic episode of the the Power Rangers TV show. It was jam-packed with love for the source material, and it successfully delivered a modern version of a show that’s been airing continuously for 24 years. The movie made a few changes here and there, but they all served to update the story and keep things fresh. The biggest change actually created a better connection between the backstory and current events. The teenagers with attitude were traded for teenagers with angst, and the bright spandex was traded for dull, but still colorful, sci-fi armor. But the goofy camp and over-the-top action remained in full strength.
This movie did not try to be more than it claimed to be. It was a long, modern episode of the television show. The first act established the characters, the second act was a training montage, and the third act was all action. Any analysis of character development, plot, and dialogue will find the movie severely lacking. But viewing it through the eyes of the kid I was back in the ‘90s, it was absolutely glorious.
This movie was focused on the characters instead of the rangers. The final—and only—fight scene was far too short, but the movie made it clear from the start that the driving forces behind being a ranger are trust and friendship. On that front, the movie completely delivered.
Surprisingly, the movie utilized a gross and disgusting main villain who worked with terror more than camp. The teens survive some horrifying experiences. The intended audience is clearly a bit older than it used to be, and younger viewers might need to be prepared for what they will see.
Overall, Power Rangers was a joy to watch. It lived up to the hype it created and opened the door for a franchise.
With all that in mind, we will wrap up this part of our hacking and reskinning series with a quick look at how some of the scenes in Power Rangers can translate into your home tabletop game.
In games, character development and backstory are often done during a session zero or outside of gameplay. But if we look at the first third of the movie, we see the characters defining their world, stories, and relationships while they interact. Playing out pre-game scenes can be less exciting than diving right in, and—especially if your game group has limited time—it might not be a wise investment. But if your players are willing, creating the game world through role playing is inspirational and rewarding. A few short conversations and narrated scenes can generate fresh, original ideas that might not have come up during a typical session zero.
The movie spent a lot of time showing the rangers training. All of these scenes were quick and focused on showing improvement. In some tabletop games, the rules ask players to explain how or why new skills are earned, having them narrate what their PC does during downtime. Other tabletop games simply allow the changes to take place instantly on the character sheet, without requiring an in-universe scene. If we learn something from these scenes in the movie, it is to let your players narrate fun scenes of how they train. There’s no need to roll dice for skill checks while the PCs are practicing. Your players can simply role play mock combat to represent the PCs learning new combat maneuvers, or they can describe all the times a PC falls on his or her face while attempting a new acrobatics stance. Let’s look at the café scene in the movie in particular. Breaking that exchange down to a series of dice rolls would’ve been slow and boring, but using narration keeps it as fun and fast as it was on screen.
The movie broke the final conflict into three distinct combat scenes: one-on-one fighting, swarm fighting, and the boss fight.
In game terms, the one-on-one fights are easy to run with the combat rules of any game’s mechanics. Most games with combat components are built around these types of fights. D&D 5E, for example, favors multiple small fights all happening at the same time. So when starting a combat scene like this, just use the rules as they are and let your players have fun with their class abilities.
For a larger fight against a swarm of bad guys, tabletop game rules can get difficult. No edition of D&D has made this type of encounter easy. But in Wushu, this kind of encounter is a breeze, as it would be in other narration-based systems. If you are playing D&D and want to run a big fight like this, break out the minion rule from 4E. You could also determine that every point of damage a PC does to the minions eliminates an enemy. In the movie, this part of the fight saw the rangers in their individual Zords. Vehicle combat can add a lot of complex distractions to a game that isn’t designed around it (and even some that are). An easier option could be adding some bonus dice to a PC’s abilities and saying that the super vehicles are extensions of their existing power. Or you could let the players go crazy and narrate anything they want for these scenes while you roll dice secretly to see how well they are navigating the dangers of the fight.
The boss fight in the movie took place between a giant monster and the Megazord, of course. In our previous articles, this was consistently the most difficult part of hacking an existing system. In the movie, each ranger was depicted controlling a specific limb of the Megazord. They had to work together to move and fight effectively. This could be replicated at the game table, with players each taking a few of the Megazord character’s actions or skills. They need to work together to use the right skills in each turn. You could also require the players need to roll for teamwork. A successful roll creates a resource that they can spend on the actions and abilities of their Megazord character.
There’s a lot to learn from attempting to hack existing game systems into a new genre. It teaches GMs not only how mechanics are structured, but how to analyze what they want out of a game experience. The articles this month did not provide the only correct way to hack or reskin a game, but simply a few ideas to point you in the right direction. Ultimately, you need to experiment and learn how this works best for you and your group. Basing your project on an established property, like a movie or TV show, can be very helpful because it gives you a guide to compare your results to.
The point of this series was not to just share our love for the Power Rangers, but also to show you how to explore new aspects of the gaming hobby and encourage you all to stretch your GM muscles in new ways. It has been a blast working on this series this month, and we will continue the hacking articles throughout 2017. We will conclude with a few articles about taking the hacking skill to its obvious conclusion: writing a new game system.
As always, thanks for reading, and remember, if you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.