System Roundtable: Jurassic Park

Welcome to a new feature here on Mephit James’ Blog! The System Roundtable is a discussion of how to run a particular game using the many RPG systems out there. In the inaugural post we’re looking at one of my favorite movie series of all time: Jurassic Park!

Below are three different perspectives on how to bring the movie franchise to your gaming table. The voices speaking here are not necessarily individual people, but rather perspectives that authors can fill for a particular take on the game. The authors behind the scenes may change in future posts but the characters they inhabit to provide their perspective won’t. Enjoy!

Jurassic Park - Grant and Kids
Image © Universal Studios

Shade: Survival of the Fittest

The tiefling necromancer known as Shade is a strategist through and through. He prefers sandbox-style campaigns with an emphasis on story and character growth.

The formula for a Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World) movie is usually as follows. Everything’s fine and dandy until someone says how their system, plan, or get-rich scheme can’t fail. Then it fails and everyone screams and runs. The characters you’re rooting for are going to scream and run too but they make it out alive while the jerks and sidekicks get their comeuppance.

The best system in my book for a game like this is Genesys. The system isn’t particularly deadly and even when you succeed you might have failure to deal with. Using the setting-neutral core book for Genesys there are already many of the skills you’d want in Jurassic Park characters, whether park employees, hapless island guests, or combat-ready mercenaries. All of the means to have things break, go awry, and generally cause havoc are baked into the system thanks to the Advantages and Threats on the dice.

The only downside is a complete lack of dinosaurs… But that’s only a problem if you don’t like making dinosaurs to start with! Reskinning the creatures from the core book will give you a start but just remember that when you have a stat block and (maybe) a few abilities for the dino, the system rights the rest of the cinematography for you.

Jurassic World - Raptors
Image © Universal Studios

Vasqueth: Let’s Fight Some Dinos!

Vasqueth is a power-gamer and proud of it. He likes combat-heavy games that are gritty and deadly, and he’s not afraid of his PCs meeting grisly deaths.

I’m divided on this one. There are two systems that I think would fit really well and which also have a lot of resources for populating an island with dinosaurs. The first one is Savage Worlds which is a two-fisted adventure system like no other. Just the core book should allow you to make everyone from Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm to Robert Muldoon and Owen Grady, but pulling in the fear and dread stuff from the Horror Companion will give the GM the tools to make the encounters true to form. There aren’t any dinosaurs in the core rulebook but the Fantasy Bestiary Toolkit from Great White Games has an ankylosaurus, tyrannosaurus, and velociraptor. You’d have to make the rest yourself (which is not a small amount of work) but the guidelines in that book will help you at least streamline this process. If you’re like me, though, a little homework making up dinosaurs is not going to be that rough.

The second system is Ultramodern 5, the modern ruleset for D&D 5e from Dias Ex Machina Games. This system is definitely aimed at combat-centered campaigns but if you want more paleontologists and hackers in the mix then the archetype system allows you to flavor the classes as you like. Best of all there are so many dinosaurs available in the 5e system just starting in the Monster Manual and going through the appendix of Tomb of Anihilation and its many DMs Guild supplements since that campaign module takes place in Chult. There’s also Plane Shift: IxalanDinosauriumTerrible Lizards: A Dinosaur Bestiary, and Raiders & Dinosaurs.  With the bulk of material out there for D&D 5e you can certainly find support for whatever you want to include in your Jurassic Park game, the only trouble is that the characters might be a little too impressive. As much as I like the idea of going toe-to-toe with a T-Rex, characters should be running from these creatures. That means you need to go lower level which limits what you can make use of, but not by much.

So, in conclusion, if you want a gritty game of near-death experiences go Savage Worlds but be prepared to make your own dinos. If you want an action-packed game of blazing rifles and defying death go Ultramodern 5 but be prepared to ramp up the deadliness so that players don’t get too cocky.

Jurassic Park - Sick Triceratops
Image © Universal Studios

Seamus: Struggle for Isla Nublar

Seamusxanthuszenus, Merchant Most Excellent, is a fellow mephit and gaming aficionado. He loves games with puzzles to solve and is a sucker for faction mechanics.

So, I read what Shade and Vasqueth wrote and they’re not wrong, but I prefer to look at the Jurassic Park franchise as a whole. In any given movie there’s the arc of hubris leading to disaster leading to running and screaming. Across the whole series of movies, though, there’s a meta-story going on with InGen making deals to see John Hammond’s ill-advised dream come true. In the most recent movies (Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) there’s an added element of some shadowy military group and preying vultures trying to get rich off the disasters on Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna.

If you’re going to run more than a one-shot in the universe of Jurassic Park, this seems to be where the real gold lies. So what game has action, adventure, and connections for these sorts of tangled webs? The brand new Modern AGE seems custom-made for it. The flexible conflict system and the exciting stunts are great for the sorts of things we see characters do in Jurassic Park while the Relationships will tie the characters to each other (like Alan and Tim or Owen and Claire) and they can connect to big ideas or senses of duty. This means that a character’s Relationship could be to a dinosaur (like the raptor Blue), a company (InGen or the company that Dodgson works for in the original film), or some goal (“Weaponizing Dinosaurs” or “Saving the Park”). You can have this sort of thing in any system, though, but in Modern AGE it has a mechanical connection to it that makes it very real.

The only problem, and this seems to be coming up again and again, is the lack of dinosaurs in Modern AGE. However, the system is fairly interchangeable with the older Fantasy AGE which has a lot of options for you to adjust and the modifications in the Fantasy AGE Bestiary make those adjustments really easy.

Jurassic Park 2 - Stegosaurus
Image © Universal Studios

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