Boardgames and Roleplaying

There are quite a few boardgames or miniature skirmish games with elaborate background stories that almost beg to turned into a roleplaying game. In some cases the developers of these games came up with their own roleplaying game. And some games like Heavy Gear or Savage Worlds can be used as either a miniatures game or a roleplaying game.

Recently a friend of mine proposed we could play some Battletech again. Battletech is a tactical board game where you control one or several huge mecha called Battlemechs. The game was initially created by the now defunct FASA Corporation. His idea was to use the rules from Mechwarrior (we decided to use the 2nd Edition rules) to create some mechwarriors that are in charge of their own unit of mercenaries fighting in the wars of the 31st century. We will use standard battletech rules for the mech-vs-mech fights and the roleplaying game for all other encounters. When everything turns out as planned, we all will have a great time.

But this made me thinking. There are a lot of games that would work great as a combat system for roleplaying games. Take some miniatures skirmish game like Games Workshop’s Necromunda for example. In that game each player controls a gang in the Underhive of a huge 41st millenium megacity. The combat rules are very detailed and there are even rules for campaigns and improving the stats and skills of the gangers. So, why not turn it into a fully-fledged roleplaying game? You can of course write up you own rules but it’s much easier to keep the combat rules of the skirmish game intact and add some other rules for the non-combat parts.

This is easy to do with a roleplaying game like FUDGE. FUDGE allows the GM to choose the attributes and skills he needs for his campaign. So just use Necromundas Stats and Abilities as detailed in the rules of the skirmish game and you’re done. You just have make sure that the fighting skills for the combat part of the game can easily be represented using FUDGE. Necromunda like all GW tabletop miniature games uses WS (Weapon Skill) and BS (Ballistic Skill) for combat checks. All stats including WS and BS can usually range from 1 to 10. FUDGE normally uses skills and attributes ranked from Terrible to Superb with 5 steps in between. For normal gangers you can set Terrible=2, Poor=3 etc. until Superb=8 and you’re mostly done. You can now easily convert between both systems. That could work for other GW games as well.

Another game that comes in mind, when thinking about boardgames that would make a great background for a roleplaying games is Crimson Skies. Crimson Skies is a tactical boardgame much like Battletech (it was created by FASA too), but this time you control fighter planes in an alternative early 20th century. The background is pretty detailed and gives a lot of opportunities for adventures outside the cockpit. For a fitting roleplaying game for Crimson Skies I would just take Spirit of the Century since it’s close enough to FUDGE to being easily adaptable and it’s already the right genre. Just use the standard Crimson Skies rules for air combat and you’re done.

What are your thoughts on that matter? Have you already used a boardgame as part of the roleplaying experience? As always, feel free to post your thought into the comment section below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

4 thoughts on “Boardgames and Roleplaying”

  1. If I was feeling snarky I could suggest that the 4e D&D boardgame could be made into quite a good role-playing game 😀 Good thing I'm not feeling snarky today.

    Talisman, the venerable rpg-inspired boardgame would make a terrific fully fledged RPG, and I'm sure it's been homebrewed more than once.

    I'm probably alone in loving the idea of a Chess RPG where the characters play the parts of Knights (fighters), Bishops (clerics) and Rooks (wizards in their towers) leading their Pawns (minions!) into battle to kill the opponent's king and defend their own. I keep suggesting it to my gamer group, and they just look at me funny.

    Yes, just like that.

    <abbr><abbr>greywulfs last blog post..Character du Jour: Redhawk</abbr></abbr>

  2. Hehe, I agree that D&D combat can feel a bit detached from the rest of the game sometimes. And I agree Talisman and similar games can provide inspiration for roleplaying adventures or settings. But you probably won't use Talismans "combat system" in that roleplaying then, unlike in my examples where I thought about how you could make use of the original board game rules.

  3. Board gamers and role players are not always the same people, so this won't appeal to everyone. But for those who happily coexist in both worlds, this is concept sounds BRILLIANT.

    Even so, you could take it still another level with some creative blending of the RPG and combat rules. For instance, you could allow the use of FUDGE/FATE points or Aspects within combat, or apply experience from fights back to the character's RPG stats. Stunts from Fate 3.0 seem tailor-made for this- they exist specifically to add extra panache to battle-specific maneuvers. Also, on a cosmetic level the checkbox tracking systems of Battletech and FATE seem made for each other.

    It's been five months since you first wrote this- have you been able to try it with anyone? If so, how did it work?

    <abbr><abbr>Cs last blog post..Practice</abbr></abbr>

  4. Alas I haven't been able to try this out with anyone. I often lack either the time or the people necessary for something like that, so a lot of my "crazy ideas" stay untested for quite some time. We did actually combine Mechwarrior and Battletech (that was of course intended by the designers) a couple of years ago, and it worked pretty fine.

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