Play worlds, not rules: characters in literature and how to translate them

In “ancient school” (pre-Gygax) rpg circles, you’ll often hear “play worlds, not rules” and variants thereof. The reason is simple: before there were any rulebooks, all referees could refer to when they played was literature (books, movies and radio plays). So how do you translate a character from literature to rpg speak? The following example will hopefully help.

Let’s take William Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer. Luckily, I found an interesting synopsis of the characters in the book. I pick Case, the male protagonist:
 
Case/Cutter (Henry Dorsett Case) 
Case, sometimes called “Cutter”, is the novel’s antihero. He is introduced as a morose, down-and-out drug addict, living out his days in the slums of the urban jungle that is Chiba city as a small-time hustler. He was formerly one of the best console cowboys, or cyberspace hackers, of his time before he foolishly tried to steal from some of his criminal partners. As punishment for double-crossing them they used a fungus-based poison to maim his nervous system rendering him incapable of logging into cyberspace. In exchange for Case’s hacking abilities and services, a mysterious man named Armitage offers to cure him of the extensive neural damage he sustained. Case cautiously consents to undergo the procedure and later on he has his liver and pancreas biochemically altered ensuring that he cannot get high again, allowing him to break free from his drug habit. He goes through an immense roller coaster ride spanning the depths of the urban sprawl to the heights of space, meeting a myriad of colorful characters along the way. In the midst of all this mayhem Case manages to free an artificial intelligence (Wintermute) and change the face of the matrix in an immense way.

I’ve underlined the things that characterize Case. Let’s paraphrase:

  • former drug addict
  • small-time hustler living in Chiba
  • used to be one of the best console cowboys
  • liver and pancreas filter system: can’t get high on drugs

That’s a LOT to work with.

Now, how would I convert this to minimald6?
Like so: Case (also called “Cutter”), one of the best console cowboys, former drug addict and small-time hustler living in Chiba, liver and pancreas drug filter, cyberdeck. 3 hits. High INT, low STR and  CON. Roll 3d6 when hacking and doing related things, 5s and 6s are successes.

How would I convert this to Landshut?
Like this: Case (also called “Cutter”), one of the best console cowboys, former drug-addict (can’t get high because of liver and pancreas filter), cyberdeck. 3 hits. Roll 2d6+2 against ref’s 2d6 when hacking and doing related things.

How would I convert this to MoldHammer?
Simple: Case (also called “Cutter”), Hacker (3 in 6 success chance). Former drug-addict (can’t get high because of liver and pancreas filter), cyberdeck. ❤ <3, to-hit: 10. Level 0.

It’s really that simple. Pick a couple of interesting points, write them down, give bonuses to rolls when the character is doing stuff he’s good at. Grant him a few hits. Done.

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