Game Jam Winner Spotlight: The Great Gatsby Tabletop Roleplaying Game

from the gaming-like-it's-1925 dept

Last week, we took a look at ~THE GREAT GATSBY~, one of the recently-announced winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1925. Today, we're moving on to our second spotlight, and looking at the winner of the Best Adaptation category, The Great Gatsby: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game by Segoli.

Best Adaptation is always an interesting category in these jams, because every entry is on some level an adaptation, but that doesn't mean they are all truly good candidates for the prize. Some make use of elements of a public domain work in a way that detaches them from their source, others focus so closely on the source that it is more like a study of the original — both those things can be amazing, and both approaches show up among our winners this year. But there's also something special about a game that turns a public domain work into something brand new while also carrying forth and further exploring its original meaning and context. That's the kind of game that is a candidate for Best Adaptation, and that's the kind of game The Great Gatsby: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game is.

As the name suggests, the game follows the contours of a typical TTRPG, with players taking on various characters and participating in a story (in this case, the story of The Great Gatsby, at least to begin with...) aided by a game master and some dice rolls. What makes it especially interesting as an adaptation is how it frames things for the game master: they are given a concise synopsis of the events of the novel, and encouraged to focus on whether their players are making more traditional choices that adhere to the original story, or wilder choices that rapidly diverge from it. Whichever way the players are leaning, the GM is encouraged to act as a counterbalance, throwing in fresh twists to push a traditional story off-course, or adding period-appropriate obstacles that force more divergent players to remember and address the setting. A lot of conventional wisdom says GMs should always try to flow with their players and take the game in the stylistic direction they want to take it, and downplay the idea that the GM acts "in opposition" to the players, but the framing of the advice in this game is actually quite brilliant: it means the players' tastes will shape the challenges they face in a satisfying way, while also keeping the game orbiting around the work it is adapting, and examining that work from different angles depending on the way the players want to interact with it.

Of course, there's another great way to win our hearts here at Techdirt, and that's by putting ideas around copyright and the public domain directly inside a game. The Gatsby TTRPG does exactly that, and it's just great. See, there's something I haven't mentioned yet: while the setting and story is firmly rooted in the novel, the player characters are not. Rather, players are required to be other public domain characters, turning the game into a mashup of Gatsby and any number of other works. And the instructions include a list of possible options, and a whole bunch of great intellectual property jokes that our audience here will surely appreciate:

Please note that several of the characters listed are temporally locked, which means you may not play as them until they enter the public domain in the year listed next to their name. Additionally, keep in mind that copyright law varies from country to country. If you are playing this game in Europe, you may have access to a greatly expanded list of public domain characters.

  1. Dracula
  2. Mrs. Claus
  3. Sherlock Holmes (empathy-free)
  4. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  5. Dr. Frankenstein (not the monster)
  6. Feral child raised by apes (see below)
  7. Bambi (the novel character) (2022)
  8. Sherlock Holmes (with empathy) (2023)
  9. Walt Disney’s mouse OC (2024)
  10. Peter Pan (UK only: the destruction of a specific children’s hospital in London)

Please note that if you are playing as the feral child raised by apes, the trademark to that character's name is owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., a company located in Tarzana, California. They are extremely protective of their trademark, so you may not refer to this character by name, despite the fact that the character himself is in the public domain. Additionally, please note that if you are playing this game in the UK, you may not play as Peter Pan as long as Great Ormond Street Hospital continues to exist. Elsewhere, he’s free game.

For those not in the know, those are some excellent references that highlight absurd minutiae of copyright. Sherlock Holmes has entered the public domain via earlier stories, but the Doyle estate is trying to assert that portraying him with emotions and empathy is still copyright infringement because he gained those qualities in later stories. Tarzan is a prime example of a recurring problem: the use of trademark law as a backdoor to perpetual copyright. And the situation with the rights to Peter Pan, a character that is nearly 120 years old but still under copyright in the UK, is just plain weird.

As you can imagine, a lot of our judges got a huge kick out of this, as did we. The copyright themes continue into the gameplay, with the difficulty of player actions being partly based on whether they are invoking something from a public domain work or one that is still covered by copyright, and it's just masterful how the game weaves together these themes, and the wackiness of combining all these public domain characters, with a genuine exploration of the original novel. For all those reasons and more, it's this year's Best Adaptation.

Get the rules for The Great Gatsby: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game on Itch, and check out the other jam entries too. Congratulations to Segoli for the win! We'll be back next week with another game jam winner spotlight.

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Filed Under: game jam, games, gaming like its 1925, great gatsby, public domain, winner spotlight


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  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 8:40am

    "Peter Pan (UK only: the destruction of a specific children’s hospital in London)"

    Wow, that's interesting. I was aware that Barrie had donated the copyright to Great Ormond Street, but I thought there's surely no way that would suddenly override existing copyright law. But, no, there it as a special exception in a 1988 copyright law passed after it had normally expired....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 10:55am

      Re:

      Such a law would never stand a constitutional chance in the US upon judicial review, since our constitution (as you know) specifically says that copyrights and patents must expire.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 11:34am

        The irony is that the law can be changed to say when that expiration date comes to pass. It’s why the U.S. public domain is at least fifty years behind where it should be.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Samuel Abram (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 1:38pm

          Re:

          That is true, but at least it expires, which is key and my point.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 3:29pm

            at least it expires

            Not in any meaningful sense.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            PaulT (profile), 21 Feb 2021 @ 11:13pm

            Re: Re:

            "at least it expires"

            For now, people are working to change that.

            But, "the work expires after everyone who was alive when the work was originally published is dead" is not a good thing, especially since that's been retroactively changed multiple times after the work was originally published, in violation of the original deal made with the public.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 2:53am

              The most pertinent example of this effect: Damn near everyone who ever saw Michael Jackson perform while he was alive will likely be dead when his music falls into the public domain — assuming it ever will, that is.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                PaulT (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 3:12am

                Re:

                You can apply this to anyone under the US copyright system - Elvis, The Beatles, Glenn Miller, whatever. Those works were created at a time when the agreement with the public was that they would enter PD within the lifetimes of the people who saw them created, now they will not be owned by the public of that generation.

                This is bad enough for works by legendary and well known artists, but for each one of those there's hundreds of other musicians who risk being lost and forgotten before that time. In those cases it's almost a moot point as to whether the copyright eventually expires, since copyright will have ensured they are forgotten before that time.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  Samuel Abram (profile), 22 Feb 2021 @ 3:15am

                  Re: Re:

                  Personally, I think the worst thing was switching from an "opt-in" copyright system with a two-term system to an "opt-out" system as prescribed by the Berne Convention. This is why I think what ultimately needs to be done is to renegotiate the Berne Convention.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 23 Feb 2021 @ 4:25pm

    Easy solution for Tarzan

    Change character name become 'Tarsand: Legend Of Blackstone'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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