This is my fourth and final blog post about adapting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) to the roleplaying game Fate. I’ve previously discussed systems (part 1), player characters (part 2), and written a one-shot adventure (part 3).
Now I want to talk about how I’d run longer TMNT campaigns.
As I mentioned last time, the shorter your campaign, the tighter and less fantastical your TMNT game should be. For a one-shot, I focused on a simple rescue tale with a single villain. But the TMNT franchise is a vast kitchen sink world (with, for example, ninjas, mutants, mad science, aliens, robots, magic, time travel, ancient civilisations, ghosts, Lovecraftian monsters, parallel dimensions, and superheroes), so in this post I’m going to explain just how bonkers I’d want to get if my players and I were committed to a significant number of sessions.
For one thing, they’re not teenagers any more…
Start with what you (and your players) know
Anyone I could convince to play in a TMNT campaign probably has at least a passing knowledge of the TMNT franchise. Maybe they even have a favourite turtle. But, as I discussed in previous blog posts, the TMNT franchise is incredibly broad and varied. If I recruit four players, all familiar with the franchise, every one of them might know the turtles through a different series.
The first job is to get all of the players on the same page. Fortunately, I’ve already blogged pretty extensively about how I’d do that.
Even in a long-running campaign, I’d start with the versions of the characters that everyone is familiar with. The players will take the role of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo. They are mutant turtles living in the sewers beneath New York City, trained as ninjas by their mutant rat master Splinter, who regularly venture to the surface to fight evil villains.
I’d present the players with the proto-PCs I made in part 2 (TMNT character sheets – Proto-PCs), which were designed to cover the breadth of the franchise, and I’d encourage the players to customise them to fit their own understanding of the characters. I’d even explicitly allow them to change other things, with the agreement of the table. Maybe some players want to rewrite an established aspect, or change their turtle’s gender. I want the turtles to feel familiar, but at the same time it’s more important for the players to have a sense of ownership of their characters. This is our TMNT game, and if we want to change things around that’s fine. (It’s nothing compared to what will happen next…)
This would also be a good point to define some other important stuff about the backstory, like Splinter’s connection to the ninja master Hamato Yoshi. Before his mutation, was Splinter Hamato Yoshi’s pet rat? Was he Hamato Yoshi himself? Or was he a lab rat who was a reincarnation of Hamato Yoshi? This is key stuff, and the players should have a say. (But if they have no preference, I’d go with Splinter being a pet rat. That’s my personal preference.) Things like the Shredder’s relationship to the turtles will likely follow from this.
Using these characters, I’d then run a short introductory campaign, to let players get used to their characters and the world that they live in. How short this is will depend on how many sessions the group is committed to, but probably between 1 and 4 sessions. One of those sessions might even be based on my one-shot from part 3, featuring the turtles’ showdown against Shredder and the Foot Clan.
This introductory campaign is your chance to let players know about the different corners of the TMNT universe, so in addition to the Foot Clan, you could have other sessions based on aliens (maybe the Utroms/Kraang or Triceratons), on time travel (does Renet the Timestress whisk them off for an adventure?), and on magic, at the very least. These seem like the key areas to hit for me, but it would probably depend somewhat on what aspects the players choose for their characters, and what areas of the TMNT universe the GM is most familiar with.
At this stage, don’t shake things up too much. This is the time to get the players comfortable with the world that their characters live in, no matter how wide and weird it is.
It’s at the end of the introductory campaign that you want to turn everything upside down!
At the end of the short introductory campaign, there will be a time-skip. They may have had more adventures together, but all too soon they grew up and drifted apart and went their separate ways. Before they know it, they haven’t seen each other in years.
We pick up the campaign when the turtles are reunited after years apart. They’ve had their own adventures. They’ve become more independent. They are no longer teenagers. Perhaps they are no longer ninjas… Perhaps they are no longer mutants…
But they’re still turtles. And they’re still family.
How have they changed in the meantime? What sort of adventures have they had? What are they like when they meet up again? How do they connect with each other?
There are hundreds of possibilities that present themselves, just by mining the official TMNT stories for ideas. Consider using these questions as prompts for your players:
- How many of the turtles still practice ninjutsu?
- Do any of them have a real job for pay? Do any of them employ other people?
- Do they still hide their presence, or can they live openly?
- Are any of them in a romantic (or any other type of) relationship? If so, is it with a human, mutant, alien or other character?
- Have any of them been scarred or disfigured?
- Have any of them undergone secondary mutations, perhaps transforming further into a beast or monster?
- Has one of them become a cyborg or a full-on robot?
- Can any of them do magic now?
- Do any of them have superpowers, or otherwise engage in superheroic activities?
- Did one of them get shunted through history (or into the future) by a time travel accident?
- Has one of them been fighting in an alternate dimension?
- Has one been hanging out with aliens in a far corner of the galaxy?
- Have any of them been affected by contact with supernatural creatures like vampires or werewolves?
- Has one of them taken over the Foot Clan and become the new Shredder?
The players should be encouraged to take their characters in very different directions, perhaps separated not just by their personal lives but by distance as well. The only limitation is that the turtles must not think or know that any of the others has been taken against their will. Each turtle must be free to pursue their own adventures in the time skip, without having to explain why they didn’t spend every waking moment trying to find or rescue their lost sibling.
Back to the Sewer
After gathering ideas for the characters, the players can stat out their reimagined characters with a new round of character creation.
If the turtles, after the time skip, are still all practicing ninjas (or at least fighters), then you can continue to use The Three Rocketeers as a system (as I described in part 1). If not, this would be a good opportunity to use a different brand of Fate, and the one I’d recommend would be Masters of Umdaar (which I also mentioned, more briefly, in part 1).
It may also help to flesh out their previous adventures by using the Phase Trio method of character creation from Fate Core. For this, each turtle would describe an adventure they’ve been on during the time skip, and then pass this on to two other players to describe how their character has had an impact on it. This would only be relevant if the turtles have met up occasionally during the intervening years, just in twos or threes but never all together.
Eventually, though, they will be reunited. The death of their Master Splinter could serve as an organic way of bringing them all home (if this wasn’t the trigger for them to drift apart in the first place).
Threats and troubles for the ongoing campaign would depend on the turtles’ adventures in the meantime. Maybe they have made enemies, or perhaps their personalities have shifted so much that they no longer get along very well. If this doesn’t give you threads to follow, there are enemies enough to mine in official TMNT media: Agent Bishop and his mission to protect Earth from aliens and other inhumans, the mystic Pantheon who manipulate others as part of some great shadow game, militaristic alien species like the Triceratons, numerous corrupt corporations, and that’s not even dipping back into the well of Shredder and the Foot Clan.
I am sure that this set up could produce a great campaign. One day, I hope to try it. Until then, if anyone uses any of these ideas I’d love to hear about it.
Side stories: The monstrous regiment
In addition to a main campaign featuring the turtles as PCs, I have an idea for a side campaign featuring lesser-known TMNT characters. This could take place either during the time skip, or just in campaign downtime (e.g. in sessions when one or more players can’t make it).
Since I wasn’t able to fit April O’Neil in my TMNT one-shot, I’d like to include her. She’s a franchise mainstay, and players will recognise the name so she’s an obvious choice. Her backstory has varied a lot in different adaptations, though. Is she a reporter, an intern, an antique store owner, an archaeologist, a high school student? I think I’ll stick with a reporter, which is her most famous occupation.
I want a ninja character too, and given that I also didn’t properly include an encounter with Karai in my one-shot, I’d like to use her. She’s a high-ranking member of the Foot Clan, who first appeared in the Mirage comics taking over the Clan after the Shredder’s death.
Oh, and we’ve gotta have Renet, the klutzy apprentice Timestress who works for Lord Simultaneous, and who travels through time with her Time Sceptre.
Three characters down, and it may be obvious where I’m going with this…
I envisage a set of Apocalypse World–style playbooks, with just the name of the character’s role and a black-and-white picture of a piece of headgear on the cover. April would be The Reporter, and have a picture of a camera. Karai would be The Ninja, and have a picture of Shredder’s helmet. Renet would be The Apprentice, and have a picture of her crazy hat with the clocks and hourglasses all over it.
In this style, we could also have The Vigilante (with a picture of a hockey mask), The Turtle (or perhaps The Fifth Turtle, with a picture of a bandana eye mask), The Alien (with a picture of a Triceraton’s triangular space helmet), and The Superhero (with a picture of the featureless facemask of Nobody).
Players intimately familiar with TMNT lore might expect these characters to be Casey Jones, Slash, Zog, and the original Batman-inspired version of Nobody. Instead, the players would open up the playbooks and discover:
- The Vigilante is Shadow Jones (adopted daughter of Casey Jones and April),
- The Turtle is Mei Pieh Chi (aka Venus de Milo, a Chinese sorceress and anthropomorphic turtle-woman, perhaps a member of the Pantheon),
- The Alien is Zura (a female Triceraton warrior who settled on Earth after the public appearance of aliens), and
- The Superhero is indeed Nobody… whose secret identity is April O’Neil!
So, yes, every single one of these characters is a female TMNT character. Of course, the switcheroo is a bit mean, so I’d probably be up-front about my intentions. Probably.
Also, as you may have guessed from the fact that there are two versions of April and April’s adopted daughter, I think the team should be brought together from across time.
The story will see the characters recruited by Renet in order to save the four TMNT from being erased from history by Savanti Romero, a demonic reject Time Lord and wizard. Each character will have something that ties them to the turtles and to the mission, something that they risk losing if the turtles no longer exist:
- The Reporter (April O’Neil): without the turtles, April would have less adventure in her life, and wouldn’t get such great news stories. (This April comes from very early in the TMNT story.)
- The Ninja (Karai): without the turtles, the Foot Clan would still be under the yoke of the narrow-minded Oroku Saki, instead of returning to glory under Karai’s leadership.
- The Apprentice (Renet): without the turtles, Renet would have lost the time scepter to Savanti Romero in their earlier encounter, and she’d, like, totally never get to be a Timestress.
- The Vigilante (Shadow Jones): without the turtles, Shadow would never have been adopted by Casey and April, and she’d never have been taught how to kick butt.
- The Turtle (Mei Pieh Chi): without the turtles, Mei Pieh Chi would not have defeated the Dragonlord in their magical duel, and the world would have been plunged into fire and darkness.
- The Alien (Zura): without the turtles, the Utroms would not have paved the way for the widespread acceptance of aliens on Earth and the Triceraton Republic would still be ruled by the corrupt Emperor Zanramon, so Zura would not have been able to make a new life for herself on Earth.
- The Superhero (Nobody/April O’Neil): without the turtles, the world would have ended a dozen times or more, and April herself would never have met or married Casey Jones, would never have adopted their daughter Shadow, and would never have become the superhero Nobody. (Nobody should keep her secret identity secret until the end of the game.)
There’s a lot of possibility with this idea. I almost wanted to do a whole campaign of it, until a friend quite rightly pointed out that I’d have even less chance of recruiting players if I wasn’t using the four turtles as my PCs. Ah well. Perhaps someone else can make use of it!