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Roleplaying Watchmen

For those of you who have visited this page of the Web site, you would know that back in the 80’s there was a Watchmen roleplaying game that consisted of three two modules, “Watching the Watchmen” and “Taking Out the Trash,” along with a “Watchmen Sourcebook”

In a recent interview, the writers of these game books, Daniel Greenberg and Ray Winninger reminisced about what the experience was like creating these popular roleplaying game supplements.

First, did you know that when they stated writing the game books the comic series was not even finished yet? Greenberg, who worked on the first module, explained that when he started work on the game Watchmen was only a three-page outline. In fact, it was published only a little more than half way through the original 12-issue run of the comic book series.

I started 'Taking Out the Trash' very early in the series' lifecycle, around the time issue #3 was released… By that point, Alan had written up through around issue #8 or #9 but he knew exactly how everything would end… I've always hated the title 'Taking Out the Trash,' by the way. My original title was 'The Harlot's Curse,'" but Winninger's title "was changed by an overzealous Mayfair editor.

Greenberg also said that he was the one that actually initiated the Watchmen project at Mayfair Games because first, he was a “major fan” of Alan Moore, and second, thought Moore’s approach to the superhero could invigorate the superhero RPG genre.

It was hard for Greenberg to convince Mayfair to take the risk in publishing a roleplaying game with such dark themes and an off-center approach to superheroes, so he offered to do all the work on the game without any advance payments. Because he sacrificed money and promised a short turnaround on delivering the product to Mayfair, Greenberg need to get some help.

I was only able to complete the RPG module on time with the extremely generous cooperation from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons… The tight schedule left little room for error in writing, designing, game testing, coordinating original art with Dave Gibbons, and securing approvals from Alan Moore, DC Comics, and Mayfair Games.

Greenberg explained that releasing a roleplaying game supplement before the source material for which it is based on has been completely release was not only a revolutionary idea, but one that would prepare readers for what was to come in the final issues of the series.

RPG gamers would be able to play through the first and only Crimebusters mission months before they would be able to read the ending of the 'Watchmen' comic… That way, players would have experienced Captain Metropolis committing a terrible act in the name of a greater cause before they read Ozymandias's terrible act for a greater cause. But where Captain Metropolis makes a mess of it in the RPG, Ozymandias learns from him and figures out how to make it work. This deepens the implication in the comic that Ozymandias begins to formulate his ideas about how to 'save the world' after Captain Metropolis's abortive attempt to form a team of heroes. So the game not only grows out of the ending of the comic, but also foreshadows the ending of the comic.

Greenberg emphasized how helpful Alan Moore was, noting that he was very generous with his time and patience, and gave detailed answers to all of his many questions. Moore even started to call Greenberg to talk about his latest comic ideas.

Alan Moore was also very supportive of the material that Ray Winninger had planned for the Watchmen role-playing game supplements.

I don't recall him ever vetoing anything. I certainly wouldn't have used anything he didn't like. He and I riffed together on some of the new stuff -- backgrounds for some of the Minutemen is one detail I remember.

Greenberg also discussed that Mayfair had requested that he consider other approaches such as Minutemen adventures, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre on patrol, the Comedian and Dr. Manhattan vs. the Vietnamese, and Nite Owl and Rorschach vs. criminals (the latter which is actually the premise of the planned Watchmen video game). However, none of these concepts were ever developed.

Winninger also revealed that, in the beginning, Alan Moore didn't plan for "Watchmen" to be just a finite comic series

Very early on I remember that Alan was excited about extending 'Watchmen' in various directions. I remember him mentioning a couple of things he was interested in — a 'Tales From the Black Freighter' comic with Joe Orlando and some of the other old EC artists and maybe a 'Minutemen' miniseries.… Obviously his falling out with DC killed any possibility we'd ever see these projects but I also got the sense he was starting to believe that perhaps 'Watchmen' was better left alone.

As it turned out, “Who Watches the Watchmen” was Mayfair Games hottest selling module and broke sales records, got great reviews, and even won the RPG industry's top award, leading them to quickly green light two more 'Watchmen' titles. Unfortunately, contract disputes with the publisher prevented Greenberg from working on the last two books in the series.

In the end, Greenberg noted that he is happy with the reception to his addition to the Watchmen universe, but had this to add:

I'm pleased that some fans like it so much they consider the events to be part of the 'Watchmen' canon because it fits seamlessly and because Alan Moore approved it. But I have told them that I cannot agree with them. Only the 'Watchmen' series itself is canon. My game is only an adaptation — reflected light and not the source.

Winninger also has nothing but affection for his work on the Watchmen RPG books:

Working on 'Watchmen' was an absolute pleasure; the sourcebook in particular was probably the most interesting gaming project I had the opportunity to work on. I'm very pleased to be a little footnote in the 'Watchmen' story.

For more information of all of the roleplaying books mentioned in this article, and to get a close look at some of the gaming miniatures released with the game as well, head on over to our Roleplaying Game & Miniatures page.

9.11.08 Source: Comic Book Resources

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