Can a setting like Adventure Time work in a Tabletop RPG?

I’ll admit, I’ve done some brainstorming on how Adventure Time could work, either as a board game or tabletop rpg. Nothing serious, just some flights of fancy that never go very far.

The difficulty that Adventure Time, or ANY truly fantastical setting where anything is possible, poses is that rules exist to limit the infinite possibilities of fantasy. Most systems would ground a setting where nothing is grounded.

Let’s take a look at some characters-
Finn is essentially a powerless (or rather “unpowered”) character* whose problem solving abilities, luck, attitude and status as protagonist renders him invincible in what is actually an incredibly deadly and dangerous fantasy setting full of magical monsters and near unstoppable horrors.

Jake, on the other hand, has almost limitless powers as a magic dog with near infinite shape shifting and virtual invulnerability but, unless he has Finn helping him,  is pretty easily defeated due to his many character flaws (greed, egocentrism, laziness).

Ice King is a deranged, megalomaniacal wizard hellbent on kidnapping women. In Adventure Time, he’s a creepy joke, but in a more serious gaming setting, he’d be a pretty threatening high level wizard, armed to the teeth with cold and paralyzing magic.

Assorted monsters in Ooo are often either deceptively cute squamous horrors or squamous horrors thru-and-thru. One of the things they often have in common are some very specific weakness or blind spot that must be taken advantage of. Also present are every sort of evil undead imaginable.

All magic in Adventure Time follows rules, but in a self contained manner (i.e. each spell or artifact is subject to the rules that govern that specific spell/artifact, but variety of spells and accompanying rules is pretty boundless). If you can magic it, anything goes, unless someone can outmagic you, either through power or cleverness (like the strategic use of Cantrips in Wizard Battle). Also, magic powers are either inborn or artifact given, though people who’ve acquired them through either means can be wizards; there does not seem to be any distinction.

A diceless system that relied entirely on problem solving would be the best way to accommodate a setting like Ooo. Riddles, puzzle monsters, and negotiations for players to wind their way through would replace typical rolling for searches/traps/actions and punch-face tit-for-tat battling. Capture & imprisonment other than death, go back to start, do not collect 200 gold.

But is this really a “system”? How does one convey the danger, horror and hostility of Ooo, which rivals Carcosa? How does one deal with the threat of PC death in a tabletop RPG that is more Neverhood than Neverwinter? Can play be balanced? Should it? It’s the sort of thing that would only appeal to certain kinds of players, but could be a fun diversion from your typical dungeon crawl. Players and DMs would have to be ready for any possibilities and contingencies within the story and exploration.

*:I’m reminded of reading an article somewhere that went to the effect of “If a group of 1st-5th level characters somehow defeat a Lich, it doesn’t mean they outsmarted the Lich, it means the DM played the Lich wrong.”


While Illi is recognized as a single settlement by the Empire, there are many small drifting
communities that comprise Illi. The few hundred people of Illi live directly on the marsh
waters on pontoon barges connected with vine rope and wooden causeways. It is inhabited primarily by the native Ungozan Marshfolk who prefer their own ways to that of the Cirsovan heartlanders.

Some stories say that before the imperial road was built, Illi’s location was not fixed, the
Ungozans moving their village about the marshwaters as need demanded. In some ways, this is still true in that each structure and causeway may be unlashed and moved on the water.

Nowadays, where the imperial road arrives at “Illi”, a particularly large wooden octagon, some 200 feet across, serves as a fixed core to which other barges and causeways may be joined. The native Ungozans do not refer to the settlement as Illi, some going so far as to insist that there is no settlement, but rather refer to the central platform as “the Illi”. During the day, people may be found trading crafted goods (food is never traded for but always shared), trading stories and news of the Marshes, and doing carpentry work that would require a greater allotment of space than would be available on the smaller barges.

At the center of the Illi is a giant iron dish, the Gulloda, which is 8 feet across and one foot
at its deepest, suspended over a shallow stone cooking pit. All manner of things are added to the dish, including saltwater crabs, fish, waterfowl, turtles, snakes and occasionally voles or muskrats. The day’s finds are brought in by hunters and fishers in the early afternoon, where they are slow-cooked into a stew called Gullodana. In the evenings, braziers are lit at each of the eight corners of the Illi, with a series of additional smaller torches going in towards the Gulloda. Any native Ungozans and visitors who are present on the Illi are welcome to partake in the nightly feasting. The native marshfolk are said to have such a sophisticated palate that they can tell from a single taste of Gullodana the exact composition of that day’s stew, how many of what was added and its relation to what was left from the previous night’s Gullodana.  Most visitors to Illi are the adventurous sorts, who are particularly interested in sampling this unique cuisine of the northern Marshfolk. Natives may often extend a friendly challenge to visitors who would also attempt to guess the composition of that night’s Gullodana. Outsiders who guess most closely to the truth may be offered the privileges of an intimate cultural experience.

Illi has a very simple division of labor: hunter/fishers who gather food, those who work with wood to make homes and boats, and women who take care of most everything else. Illi also has 8 “Storymen”, who serve a priestly shamanic role for the community, offering homilies and maintaining their traditions orally. Each of the 8 Storymen have their barge perpetually docked to one of the 8 sides of the Illi. Anyone may go to them for wise counsel at any time, including outsiders (those who have guessed what is in the Gullodana are encouraged to do so for their reward, though it is not requisite). Over the course of 8 nights, beginning with the new moon, each Storyman will take a turn to tell a story to the people of Illi from the causeway of his barge. On the night of the full moon, a special story will be told, followed by ritual and song.

Based on some of the tales told by the Storymen, the Marshfolk of Ungoza were aware of the Northern Civilization, perhaps even as far back as a time prior to the abandonment of Elefloe.  A theory that the Native Ungozans are descended from or intermarried with refugees escaping the ice sheet was briefly in vogue among anthropologists in the decades following the discovery of Elefloe. Today, the northern parts of Ungoza, particularly the areas near the ice sheet, are considered taboo-land by the Natives, who rarely leave the northern boundaries of the EasternMarshes.

The Marshfolk of Illi maintain a relatively amicable relationship with the Empire. Occasionally, one of the Storymen will tell a tale of how they came to be part of the Gatian Empire, but their allegiance to Orrin Tormant and Cirsova likely do not often cross their minds. Indeed, the Empire did once send a mighty army to subdue and subjugate any northern threats, however outside of the old pirate colony of Galbarrow, the empire found little to subdue or subjugate in the way of the Illi. A testament to the magnanimous nature of the Cirsovan people, the Empire built roads through the marsh and allowed the native Ungozans to pay only token tribute to the emperor (generally paid in canoes loaded down with cowry shells) through the magistrate in Agalla. The Ungozans long ago yielded their greatest treasure when their Storymen revealed to the Cirsovans the location of the Ungoza Crater.

Music – Rachael Please new album out Nov 5th

My little record label, Retro Virus Records, is putting out a new album by a pretty awesome band, Rachael Please. They’re sort of like a cross between Tool and Nine Inch Nails. They’re from the middle of nowhere southern Missouri, but sound like they could be from one of the big scenes.

Their new album, Incest is the Highest Form of Flattery, is available for pre-order on Amazon right now and will be out on November 5th.  So, do me a favor and check it out. If you’re interested, you can download their previous EP for free.

Case of the Syphilitic Sister, Ch2.

James Hutchins has the second chapter of his serial “Case of the Syphilitic Sister” up on JukePop Serials.

It’s a mixture of noir detective thriller and super-hero deconstruction ala Watchmen.  It’s not without its faults (many of which will probably resolve themselves as he has more time to flesh out the setting), but it is an amusing read and won’t cost you anything but a little bit of your time.

It’s less lurid than title suggests (though for reasons unknown to me, I keep writing it as “Tale of the Syphilitic Sister”; indeed it is a tale of Two Sisters, though it bears no resemblance to that story…  Or does it?!).  My money is Atlantean cultist vampire STDs.  With Hutchins’ stuff, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.

To Renew or Not to Renew

In addition to writing this little Fantasy blog, I also have a small and struggling independent record label that has put out about 10 released in the last 3 years, plus two more upcoming releases before the end of 2012.

Now I have to file to renew my business license (a $100 piece of paper) with the state. Unfortunately, I have to decide whether or not to keep things rolling for another 12 months BEFORE we know the results of the US election on November 6th.

Why is this a big deal? Well, dealing in niche luxury during a massive economic depression is pretty tough, especially when you can’t afford to advertise (gas, food and energy price increases ate up the pittance I put towards marketing my hobby). So, I guess I have to gamble whether to keep trying, even if things are bound to get worse. I’d like to wait a little longer to make my decision, but the State won’t let me.

If I DO decide to keep things going with Retro Virus Records, I hope that new friends and followers here at Cirsova will find themselves curious enough to check out a release or two, which would go a long ways toward helping keep the lights on.

Thanks to all, and I’ll let you know what I decide soon!