Thoughts on the Failure of Licensed IP in the Hobby: The Lack of Disney-fication is a Feature, not a Bug

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The main thing that always made me doubt that Star Trek could even be viable as an RPG is that all works revolve primarily around Starfleet officers, and as such PCs wouldn't decide their actions as equals, but instead have one player have the final say on everything with everyone else expected to do it without much resistence.

That's what makes Star Wars much more playable, and probably hugely more popular for RPGs.Scoundrels take orders only from one person ("Me!") and everything has to be decided by bargaining with other PCs, and even when the party consists of Rebel fighters, hierarchy is more a suggestion than a hard rule that is being enforced.
Rebels and The Bad Batch play out almost exactly like a typical RPG campaign.


One thing that makes D&D accessible is the violence treadmill which provides us with some sort of victory condition which is common to most types of games. I know, a lot of people used to tell me you don't "win" traditional RPGS, but that's not true. You get treasure and more powers and that's a type of victory.


@Snarf Zagyg's point #4 is a much larger issue than I think gets credit. Publishers and designers often have a limited amount of time to gain any traction with their "IP the TTRPG" because their rights to make material for that IP will likely come and go.

YOMV, but it seems as if Star Wars is as much of a Cheesecake Factory in the scope of its focus as D&D. D&D's focus of its fantasy is great for playing D&D-style fantasy, but I have found that it resists the ability to play fantasy outside of that scope, which is far more than people think. 🤷‍♂️
When talking about starwars ttrpgs people over look how prolific WEG starwars was. Lucas sent novel writers the source book as reference material and it was considered cannon. It spawned 3 editions and well over 100 rule books, source books and adventures. What killed WEG SW was bad business management by the companies owners, Lucas was sad to see them go. After WEGs collapse the IP starts hopping from publisher to publisher, each making a quick money grab before losing or dropping the licence.

The licenced IPs have got a time limit.

The characters from franchises weren't created for a leveling up in the roleplay game version. They started from zero to become hero.

The games based in licences usually used a different system, and lots of players don't want to learn new ones beyond their favorite titles.

Some players would rather to get the lore of their favorite franchise from the fandom wikis, and using their favorite game system.


Some players would rather to get the lore of their favorite franchise from the fandom wikis, and using their favorite game system.
In a lot of ways, that's true. I don't need a sourcebook if I want to run a game set in the Warhammer 40k universe. Not only are there Wikis out there, but I can go to Youtube and watch all manner of videos detailing even the more obscure parts of the setting. I'm starting a Fallout campaign, but the main book only gives you detailed information about the Boston area since that's where the Fallout 4 video game was set. I'm relying on the Wiki to give me the details I need to run a campaign in Phoenix, Arizona.


Not sure how FFG does it but they've had a pretty comprehensive Star Wars RPG in print for about 11 years now (12-23), same edition, consistent mechanics. WEG did it before with a roughly 12 year run (87-99) that covered everything that had been released during their time. WOTC had a similar run of about 11 years (00-11) but released 3 different versions of the game as each of the prequel movies came out. I don't think anyone publishes a game line for over a decade and calls it a failure.
I think with FFG it helps that they don't specifically have a Star Wars RPG license. They have a license for Star Wars Tabletop games, or something along those lines (which is also why they don't sell Star Wars RPG PDFs – for some reason, they're not covered by the license). So the Star Wars RPGs are mostly a side effect of already having the license for X-Wing, Armada, Legion, Imperial Assault, and whatever else they're doing.

And the RPG has been mostly fallow for a while, particularly with the transfer to Edge Studios (another company owned by Asmodee/Embracer). They had a pretty high rate of release at first, both doing three RPGs one year after another, and releasing both splatbooks (6 per game), a few adventures, and a few sourcebooks per line. The splatbooks aren't "pure" splatbooks – they contain things like ships and other equipment as well as rules for more specialized situations (IIRC, the rules for building a ship from scratch are in the AOR Mechanic splatbook). But once that was done, they've slowed down and done both collection books (Gadgets & Gear and Starships & Speeders, collecting a bunch of gear/vehicles from assorted other books) as well as sourcebooks for playing in different eras (starting with the Phantom Menace and ending with Rebels – but so far nothing like the Old or High republic, or the Legends/Expanded Universe post-ROTJ stuff). But AFAIK, nothing new has been released since 2019. They're doing reprints, but not to the point where they're keeping the whole line in print.


Great post and thread.

I’d like to add a few thoughts here:
1. I think it really depends on the IP and much freedom it gives you to create your own story.

Star Wars is a great example here because it is such a large universe to play in across various time frames and (now) two continuities. A GM could easily create a story that can both feel familiar to fans without, or only barely touching, the established canon. The same goes for Trek - you can easily craft a ship and crew and plop them in some out of the way place to tell your story while still bringing in familiar elements to link it to canon.

Other licensed IPs don’t really have that freedom because the universe is smaller or has more load bearing characters that are harder to work around.

And that brings me to my 2nd point: the system. The system has to enable you to tell a story that is enjoyable, easy to pick up, and fits in the style of that universe or IP.

WEG’s Star Wars D6 let you tell a story that felt like cinematic like Star Wars while still providing a lot of creative freedom, and it’s relatively simple. I don’t think the WOTC or FFG* offerings really capture this feel. (Character adaptations is one thing I liked about WEG D6 - there are no levels so the writers are free to just adapt characters based on what’s shown/written in published media)

The Star Trek systems I’ve looked at have always felt VERY crunchy.

Other licensed IPs seem to have custom-designed systems specifically for that IP. I was looking through the Power Rangers RPG core book at my FLGS, and it seemed very customized for a Power Rangers story.

I think that D&D (and Pathfinder) excels because it’s really a system with multiple settings. The core rulebooks provide a framework for telling a high fantasy adventure. You don’t have to use any of the settings that WOTC published. That’s harder with licensed IP, even something more open like Star Wars.

* - I haven't played Star Wars FFG. Just read it.

Barbie's Magical Mansion?
That’s called the Barbie Dream House, a miniature tabletop game. It’s expensive, and it’s also got competition from the even more expensive “American Girl Doll” RPG and its slightly cheaper generic 18-inch girl doll knockoffs.

RPGers, it seems to me are more interested in the setting that the story of the movie is selling, rather than reenacting their favorite sort of scenes from the movie-- even in the context of their own characters as the heroes. I think in that sense its less of a murderhobo impulse, and more that playing the setting straight is more interesting in an RPG than in a movie: pulling jobs in a cyberpunk universe is inherently tactical, includes problem solving, a reward, and stakes if you fail, but "Can I pull this off? Ok sweet we did it" is often pretty basic as a movie plot goes.

I think one of the reasons DND style fantasy is often regarded as generic enough to pull off most fantasy, is because the kinds of compromises you have to make to pull character concepts or monsters in, the things we sometimes look at and say "DND Fantasy doesn't allow for this" don't really matter to what the person doing it actually wanted. If you want to play as a Geralt-of-Rivia-like, you probably mean you want to play a gruff monster hunter with a cynical outlook but a heart of gold, or that you want powers that feel like the ones he uses in the games, THAT PART is a lot more doable than "I need to play in a zero-compromise rendition of the World of the Witcher." So this world that has loads of monsters, different magical traditions, endless lists of spells, and a variety of classes that are based on different sources of power and fictional ideas, becomes a kind of 'wide denominator'

If you run a magic school game in Pathfinder, you aren't playing Harry Potter exactly, but you can probably get most of what would matter to you about that in: a setting full of magic and mystery, that you explore as students who get into trouble as they investigate weird goings-ons during their time in school and face off against bullies, rivals, and deal with teachers. You don't need a game that emulates Potter's magic system to do that, so if you're comfortable with DND magic that's just fine. If you take this with what I said before, a lot of the RPG impulse is trying to live in the fictional space those characters inhabit, and the status quo of the story is an exciting life to inhabit, divorced from the status quo shattering plot of the film that inspired you. personally, I've always been frustrated by the plot and wish these works spent more time on exploring the implications of their world, and slice of life elements set in the fantastical. In that context "Fantastical Treasure Hunters" played straight is fine, and a great basis for us to add character relationships and personal arcs onto.

Also incidentally, on the subject of Star Wars, I think many of the people who are most enthused to play a Star Wars RPG are traditionally the sort of people who get enthused about reading the Star Wars novels that do in fact fly off the shelves of your local library, or get enthused about playing Star Wars Video Games with their own narratives and sub narratives, like ye olde KOTOR and its exploration of way before the movies and jedi lore, 2006's Battlefront 2's exploration of military actions barely or entirely unexplored by the films, Empire at War and it's preoccupation with the Black Sun Syndicate.

In that context, the Star Wars movies are a beloved afterthought to the rest of the setting, which you can spend a lot of time in if you would like, and easily hold the opinion "The Movies are pretty good, but have you played KOTOR II yet?" when it comes to the fantasy of being a Jedi.

aramis erak

I think with FFG it helps that they don't specifically have a Star Wars RPG license. They have a license for Star Wars Tabletop games, or something along those lines (which is also why they don't sell Star Wars RPG PDFs – for some reason, they're not covered by the license).
THey specifically had (it's been transferred to Edge Studios) the RPG license.
The reason cited by FFG for no PDFs is that a PDF is considered software by Disney, and thus outside their license. (Given that WotC made the same claim lends a bit of credence to that.)

And technically, PDFs are software - they use PostScript, which is a turing complete programming language. Further, they can embed another turing complete programming language, JavaScript.


Yep, PDFs are considered "electronic games". Also Edge has plans to produce new books but they're on hold due to continuing supply chain issues IIRC.


Reflecting the thread about Licensed RPGs you'd like to see... this concept doesn't even intrigue me. I'm certain, I'm not like most gamers. I've previously mentioned, I wasn't big into comics as a kid, I did purchase some of the horror comics of old (Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie and Vampirella), but not more than a half dozen of each back when I was 12. I'm not a collector, I don't collect anything, especially not movie or games products, unless I am actually playing a given IP. Since I'd started to develop and publish my own content, that's all I really want to do is to develop and publish, my own content. I've always created products of my imagination. Sometimes I see some one else's creative ideas, and I often think that's a good idea, but I'd have done it differently. So when I see existing IP, I only think about how I'd do it, not how it was done in a give novel or movie. I have zero interest in other's IP, if I didn't create it, I'm uninterested. I'm not claiming my content is "best" or even "better" than existing IP, just I have no interest in IP, I did not create.

I didn't even post to that thread regarding licensed IPs I want to see as an RPG, because none of that applies to my interest at all. Regarding the "Disney-ificaiton" of content is even further from interest, so I'd never buy a "Disney-ified" product ever.

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