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Friday 31 January 2014

Did 'Game of Thrones' Start as a GURPS campaign?

Gentlemen, I present you the evidence:  first of all, we know for an absolute fact that George R.R. Martin is a gamer, and that his favorite game in the world is GURPS.    We know that some of his other novels began as direct inspiration/play-report from one of his campaigns.

Now, I haven't actually seen any direct confirmation from Martin (or a reliable source of some kind) that "A Game of Thrones" started out as a GURPS campaign.  One person I discussed the matter with recently decried the notion that GoT might have started as an RPG game as "wishful thinking". 

We do know for a fact that Martin was influenced by the War of the Roses. And we know you can make the War of the Roses into an RPG setting: I've done it, with my "Dark Albion" campaign/ free setting.  But its true that it might be too much to hope for that one of the most popular franchises of recent years has direct RPG-roots.

Maybe so, but at the same time as an historian I'm trained to study text for historical clues. And I think I've discovered something everyone else has missed.

First, presume that IF Martin had started Game of Thrones as a campaign, it would have been with GURPS. Second, we know that characters created with different systems sometimes have a different look.   In GURPS' case, it is heavily affected by its being a point-buy system for people that love radical "character optimization".  Random-roll old-school it ain't.

With those two points in mind, something fascinating reveals itself:  pretty much with every character in Thrones you can see them as GURPS Fantasy guys complete with having seriously minmaxed on their disadvantages.  Consider:

"I want to be the best fucking swordsman in the world.. shit.. better take 'incestuous relationship with sister' and 'murdered the last king'"

"I want to be even better at swordplay than that other guy! Damn.. i better take "excessively tall", "social disadvantage: female", and "flaw: falls in love with idiots""

"I want to be crazy smart and really socially competent... ah well, 'midget' here I come"

"I want my character to be King! Damn.. I'll have to take the 'complete asshole' disadvantage"

"I want to have 'contender for the throne' and be the only player who didn't pay it off with 'complete moron'.  Yeah, I know I'll need to pay it off somehow.. how about 'sold his soul to a religious cult'?"

"I'm the badass strong mean knight.. fuck, well, "facial burns" and 'phobia: fire' it is.."

"I want dragons!! You're saying I'll have to take what?? And that's still not enough? I'd also need to.. shit.  Oh.. well.. ok!"

"I want to be the most awesome character in this or any other campaign ever. I'll have to take 'little girl'?? But I did that exact same thing already in the 'Kick-Ass Supers' campaign! Well, whatever..."

...And then the guy playing Littlefinger doesn't char-op at all and ends up running circles around everyone else anyways by sheer Roleplay, because he's used to playing Amber instead of GURPS. Which is why the char-opers all despise him.


Currently Smoking: Ben Wade Canadian + Image Latakia


  1. Martin used to game with Roger Zelazny. That's where the Wildcards series came from.

  2. Haha, I can just see character generation. OK, great warrior, powerful lord, high score in connections with the king. Well, inflexible code of honor doesn't seem so bad. I'm sure I can rp that well.

  3. Mr.Fred: I had heard from Erick Wujcik that in fact it was Erick who first introduced Roger Zelazny to roleplaying games. So if Martin played with Zelazny, it must have been after that, which was relatively quite late in Zelazny's life. 1986 or so would have been the absolute earliest it could have happened.

    Since Martin was one of Zelazny's many proteges (interesting how so many people who were mentored by Zelazny, like Martin and Neil Gaiman, have become such huge figures today, and making stories that are very Zelazny-esque in different ways), its certainly possible the two gamed together, but I get the sense that Martin may have been gaming before Zelazny ever did.

  4. :) No need for GURPS, it could have been Fantasy Hero. The Wild Cards original campaign was based on Superworld, which used a system of Advantages/Disadvantages like Champions.

  5. Great post! I wouldn't be surprised at all.

    In addition, Robin Hobbs wrote Paksennarrion from a D&D campaign and Steven Erikson wrote the Malazan series from a D&D/Gurps campaign.

  6. Pretty certain in the May 2003 issue of Dragon, when they attempted a Westeros setting special (predates the d20 RPG for Game of Thrones) Martin talked about it in interview being a GURPS setting originally.

  7. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing that; can anyone confirm it?

  8. I stand corrected. I tracked down a "hook and eye patch" scanned copy of the issue to quench my own states that WIldcards was based on a "Superworld" campaign. It talks a lot about his gaming experience (apparently his GM was Walter Jon Williams, dude who wrote Hardwired, and also he runs a historical Rome campaign.) But it also mentions Martin doesn't "cross the streams" between writing and playing. There is no confirmation nor denying that I'm seeing on if Westeros was a campaign setting at all. Pages 100-101.

  9. It would certainly explain Young Griff.
    "Hey guys, this is my new girlfriend and she wants to play too.
    Anyway, I've made her a guy who is the rightful Targaryen king, who is really smart, a great sword fighter and he's got an army. Oh, and the eunuch super spy has to do what he says. Let's play!"

  10. Lord Bloodraven is also the most min-maxed character I've ever come across. He;s the perfect Mary Sue, but he's got all of these asinine flaws that aren't really flaws.
    He's the best archer in the Seven kingdoms, a warg, a Targ, Hand of the King, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, a super spy, a war hero and the prettiest lady who ever lived is madly in love with him.
    But he took "One Eye," "Bastard," "Albino" and "Enemy: Brother" to balance it all out.

  11. Littlefinger is even more heavily optimised than everyone else. He's got less Standing, but is Inobtrusive in order to really boost up his social abilities, loads of Etiquette, Bureaucracy, and a Making A Profit! Wildcard skill that's blown up to IQ+6 or so.
    He's balancing it with the worst Mary Sue disadvantage of all... Lost Love!
    So no, he's not used to playing Amber. They're just using the Social Engineering rules.