I had lunch with the DM of my D&D game recently and spent some time describing to him the various one-shot games that show up at EOW (my mini-con coming up next week). One reoccurring theme is judges ripping off the plot of books for their adventures. It is an enticing prospect: you have the plot, NPC's, key events, etc. all laid out for you. Moreover if you liked the book, you'll probably have a good game. Or so you think.
In reality it never works out. Either you end railroading the players through the plot of the book, or the PC's go off the rails so badly you don't know what to do, because you didn't build anything beyond the plot of the book. Case in point: last year a judge did a scenario based off a piece of military science-fiction where a stranded leader of an armored company in Iraq travels all the way back to Europe, following the path of some famous classical-era general. So, we the PC's, are these military personnel who get informed that the United States is hung up in a civil war and no relief is in sight. So what do we do? We hunker down. We fortified the base and decided to set up our own little fiefdom. After all, leaving the area likely meant getting shot at. So, all the scenarios predicated our leaving, and we didn't. The judge spent most of the time flailing about and the players got frustrated because it was clear we were doing something wrong and the adventure seemed pointless and boring. It wouldn't have taken much of a nudge from the beginning to get us on the right track, but even then you're just setting up the "journey" storyline where we will just go point-to-point, encounter-to-encounter.
The other part is, players just aren't as interesting as characters in a story. We tend to be mercenarial, a little short-sighted, and prone to silliness. It happens. So you imagine the interplay and the personalities of the literary characters, and your players fall short. Basically, you don't get a second iteration of the book.
Where I think ripping off books can work is when you lift out things like interesting NPC's and settings, certain descriptors, and maybe even a general plot, realizing that it won't be like the book. There's ways to do it, and I think in my next post I'll take some of the books I've been reading, and show you how to mine them for gold.