Playing One Piece: Crafting Epic Pirate Adventures

At long last, I have found a way to join two of my favorite pastimes: role-playing games and One Piece.

One Piece is a story of adventure and friendship set in a world of islands and seas during a golden age of pirates.  The story is available in print (manga) or video form (anime), is one of the top manga in Japan, and it’s engaging from the very beginning.

One Piece features remarkable depth of character, dramatic relationships, versatile plot arcs, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking quality entertainment. Having encountered many stories during my college studies in literature, I readily admit that One Piece grabs my emotions and attention in a wholly unique way. Equal parts comedy, action, adventure, trajedy, heart-warming and heart-wrenching drama, and true epic (as in Homeric epic), One Piece should definitely be on your list to watch or read soon (w/ subtitles because much of the English dubbing ruins the voices).

Here is a short trailer featuring Luffy, the lead character encompassing some of the tone and spirit of the tale [Some spoilers]:

Story for a Game

Besides just being an amazing story, though, One Piece also offers the perfect setting for a role-playing game:

The goal is clear, although lofty and ripe for conflict and adventure along the way: Find One Piece, Gold Roger’s legendary treasure, and thereby become the new King of the Pirates.

The geography of the world is perfect, scattered islands over five vast seas offering adventuring sites with a vast diversity of climates and cultures but a clear progression among them, and enough isolation from island to island that pirates can establish their reputations anew at each stop, without being hunted from the moment they come ashore (that is, until their bounties climb high enough).

The crew dynamic assumes that diverse characters need to come together to mutually support one another and fill functional roles: the captain, the first mate, the navigator, the sniper, the cook, the doctor, etc.  Within these roles, the characters come to life, not primarily by the functions they perform, but by how their personalities rub up against one another, how their values conflict, and how they challenge each other to grow.

Finally, the threat is abundant and consistent, coming at lead characters in the form of both rival pirates and the marines and other agents of the World Government (most of both parties being wicked and self-serving). By abundant, I mean all pirates are searching for One Piece and thus compete with each other along the way. Meanwhile, the marines are everywhere trying to put pirates in their place. By consistency, I refer to the power structure in the One Piece world, which allows for extremely fascinating advancement taking nobodies to world-renowned infamy, and this power focuses on the devil’s fruit.  The Devil’s Fruit in One Piece are one-of-a-kind fruit that irreversibly bestow upon their eater unique powers of a certain flavor. Luffy became a rubber man whose whole body stretches by eating the Gomu Gomu fruit. There are numerous powerful pirates and marines who are masters of their fruits’ abilities giving them the powers of fire, smoke, darkness, ice, sand, various animals, and many other unusual abilities. These powers are astounding, but they come at the steep price of being forever utterly powerless in seawater, a very significant trade-off in a world of islands, ships, and seas.

Story from a Game

From the very beginning, as I watched the story unfold with my GM trained eye, I could not help but think that the story could easily be the result of a creative group of friends recording the outcome of their rpg experiences.  I can almost see the mechanics happening behind the scenes, can nearly hear the exchange of fate points, and can sense in the One Piece world and characters the kind of tricks that I use when narrating/adjudicating our fantastic story played out via DnD. For this reason, from the very beginning, I’ve been trying to both, bring more of the One Piece style drama and action to my DnD game because we all like it so much, as well as trying to discover which game the original players are playing to produce such a vivid story. Of course, Eiichiro Oda probably didn’t derive the story from a game, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he did. The main point is this: Whatever game could spawn such stories, I want to play that game.

The cool part is, I believe that I have found a game that could create stories as rich, deep, and colorful as One Piece, and what’s more, without too much work at all, it could very well be a One Piece RPG. Players can form up a crew to set sail in one of the four starting seas, with their sights set  on the Grand Line, and the New World beyond, experiencing all kinds of adventure along the way. PCs can harness wildly unique devil-fruit abilities (imagination’s the limit), or be mermen if they choose, and if not, the normal human non-devil-fruit users have just as vital a role to play in the story as the others.

Like Leverage RPG, which I discussed earlier, I believe another game using Cortex Plus as it’s foundation would be perfect for a One Piece RPG: Smallville RPG.

Next time, I will explore Smallville as a game and it’s merits for facilitating One Piece pirate adventure stories.

About Adam

I'm a husband, father, explorer of the inexhaustible, and synergy cultivator. Starting with D&D, my explorations into role-playing and game design have brought me to savor mining diverse systems, initially Cortex Plus, then PbtA, ORE, Forged in the Dark, and now anything I can get my hands on.