Many, many role-playing game companies have been tempted into doing RPG adaptations of established media franchises, such as books, TV shows, or movies. The attraction is obvious; the product comes with a built-in market. Unfortunately, there are also many, many pitfalls. Many of the companies who have dabbled in licensed products have emerged from the experience poorer for it. There’s a trick to surviving adaptations and not every company has it.
Way back in 1983, I was thrilled to read in Different Worlds 29 that Chaosium Games had acquired the rights to do a role-playing game based on Larry Niven’s Ringworld (a title that did not at that time inspire feelings of melancholy and despair over the decline of a once-great author). Not only had Chaosium created Runequest, one of my favourite RPGs, but they had ample experience at turning literary properties into games1. By 1983, Chaosium’s licensed products included Thieves’ World, Stormbringer, and of course Call of Cthulhu.
It’s not entirely true to say that Ringworld the RPG got caught up in Development Hell, but I do think it’s safe to say the project turned out to be bigger than John Hewitt or any of the other people involved could have envisioned. Despite delays, Larry Niven’s Ringworld: Roleplaying Adventure Beneath the Great Arch was finally released in 19842.
And what did a youthful James find when he popped open his copy of the game?