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Roleplaying on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

GURPS Discworld

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GURPS Discworld

I bought GURPS Discworld when it came out with the full intention of playing it. My group consisted of at least 3 other Pratchett fans back then, so I would have had a wonderful audience. The problem was… well…
It was not a bad book. Has SJG ever produced a really bad book for that line? And how could one go wrong with something like Discworld? The novels were pretty muche made of roleplaying satire from the start!

In his review of Discworld Also Robert A. Rodger put it like that:

“This is where GURPS Discworld disappointed me. It continued the Discworld as parody mode, and supplied guidelines and suggestions for GMs to run humorous games adventuring across the Disc.

Which is not what the bulk of the Discworld novels are about. The plots are not funny; Prattchett‘s voice and writing is. The characters aren’t absurd parodies; they echo archetypes but evolve into full characters. And the stories aren’t about adventures; they’re about people protecting their homes, their families and their virtues.”

Needless to say the book was read carefully and with interest and then ended up on the shelf collecting dust.
The book wasn’t bad, just… wrong. The whole thing seemed woefully uninspired. Short descriptions of Discworld locations and a few halfway decent adventure ideas were weighted against the overly complicated GURPS character generation, unnecessary details about the novels (like synopseses for all of them), and a very forced attempt to create a “funny” atmosphere in the game. If I noticed one thing gamemastering it’s that one cannot force “fun” on the players if they don’t want to have it. It’s a bad sign if something like Discworld manages to produce a book as lackluster as this.

It’s one of the few times when I really regretted buying a game supplement, and that’s coming from someone who owns multiple Forgotten Realms products.*

Discworld as a setting

But that still left me with the idea of setting a game on Discworld. It just would fit so well, y’know?

The first few novels are pretty much 100% D&D fare. With thieves’ and assassins’ guilds in the faux-medieval metropolis of Ankh-Morpork, with weird forgotten temples, druids and barbarians, dwarves and trolls, wizards and witches, and just a pinch of Lovecraft lurking in the background.
The whole of Discworld is a wonderful pastiche/satire on the typical early D&D/fantasy novel setting of the time.

I maintain that it should be easy to actually do some roleplaying there, and that the problem with GURPS Discworld was that it was overthinking it. What was the inspiration for Discworld in the first place? Pretty much D&D, wasn’t it? Terry was a D&D player, he played the game, read the White Dwarf, created his own worlds along this game. It wasn’t GURPS guys in his age group were playing in early 80s Britain (because GURPS did not exist yet), it was beautiful, make-up-your-own-and-mix-with-whatever-you-got D&D.

Coming attractions

So let’s do that. How can we play Discworld with just Basic D&D, or in my case Labyrinth Lord, rules?
I will post some of my ideas in the coming days.

Some basic ground rules so no confusion will arise: This will be roughly OD&D. I have the Labyrinth Lord rules and prefer them for a game (them being pretty much OD&D with a clearer structure), but I have also both the three basic AD&D books and the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion, and will use them for additional rules.

I think that OD&D races-as-classes fits the setting better than the AD&D race-and-class method, although some of the later novels have interesting combinations of character concepts. The AEC mix and match method might be advisable if someone really wants to play a dwarfish fighter/thief. Personally I’d prefer a character with a clearcut class in this setting though.


*I always hoped it would get better with the next book, but it never did. Never have I seen such a shallow and futile campaign setting…

10 responses to “Roleplaying on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

  1. Pingback: [Dungeons & Dragons] Discworld Classes 2 – Covert « Stuffed Crocodile

  2. Christopher B January 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I’d love to see a Discworld campaign setting (other than the aforementioned GURPS one – that system has a real knack for draining the soul from cool setting ideas, e.g. Conan, GURPS Goblins, Castle Falkenstein) but I have trouble picturing D&D being the medium for it. Its inclination toward power-leveling and built-in magic just doesn’t have the right feel. It would take a lot of house-ruling to squeeze it into the gonzo-but-deadly world of DW. (Of course, its rules-lite nature is an advantage here.)

    On the other hand, I ran a few sessions of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay just before Christmas, hot on the heels of repeated viewings of Hogfather and The Colour of Magic; this influenced the way I portrayed the game world, and it definitely touched on that DW vibe. It would be the place I’d start from if creating a DW setting…


  3. Geoffrey January 31, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Well, when I say D&D I mean Original D&D (or in my case the retroclone Labyrinth Lord) which, played according to it’s rules is quite dangerous and hard to survive in, and even harder to gain a level over 5. I am talking old school roleplaying here. At the same time the rules are light and fast to use, even with the few oddities it has. The hardest might be the concept of a descending armor class.
    I see DW exactly in that style.

    Warhammer I just can’t get myself to like. I have a completely unfounded antipathy against it, even though I know (academically) that it is suppposed to be a good game.


    • ConstableBrew March 24, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Check out the new D20 based system “Legend”. I am running a home grown campaign setting that is greatly inspired by DW. The Legend mechanics have been working well with the group.


  4. Pingback: Discworld Roleplaying Bibliography « Stuffed Crocodile

  5. Pingback: Folklore of Discworld « Themself

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  7. Toristan April 27, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I’m looking at trying a modification on strands of fate. My problem is a lack of dw fans to play.


  8. Pingback: [Discworld] …And A Thousand Elephants! | Stuffed Crocodile

  9. Pingback: Folklore of Discworld - Themself

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