Videogames that should be turned into pen & paper RPGs

Recently the extremely successful Dragon Age: Origins by Bioware was brought to the gaming table by Green Ronin Publishing. But the Dragon Age RPG is much more than just a simple conversion of the game world presented in the computer game but a beginner friendly RPG with lot of old-school charm. Green Ronin has put a lot of love and effort into that project and it shows. In my opinion there are some other video games that would probably work great at the gaming table. This is what I came up with:

Mass Effect
Mass Effect The Mass Effect series (Mass Effect 2 has been released just a few days ago) is another Bioware franchise. The game has been praised for its graphics, gameplay and story, but also for the deep background. The ingame Codex contains tons of information about every sapient species mentioned in the game, technology, planets, history, you name it. The next episode of the planned trilogy, Mass Effect 2, expands on that background and adds new places, technology and species to the mix.
With that amount of background information, I would love to explore the Mass Effect universe on my terms in an official pen & paper game. I am just hoping that Bioware already plans to cooperate with Green Ronin (or another publisher) on a Mass Effect RPG when the Dragon Age RPG becomes a commercial success. In my humble opinion this game could be a blast at the gaming table.

Arcanum – Of Steamworks and Magicks Obscura
Arcanum Troika Games’ debut game is still one of my favorites. Although it was full of bugs at the release, the computer RPG set into a world reminiscent of the Victorian age filled with strange magic and steampunk goodness, still intrigues me today. There are a lot of games that mix magic and steampunk, but what made Arcanum special was the fact that there was a dichotomy of magic and technology in the game world. Both concepts are incompatible to the point that they interfere with each other. I always tried to come up with an Arcanum pen & paper of my own, but alas this project never left the planning stages. Since Troika Games, the development studio which created Arcanum, went out of business and Activision-Blizzard, which holds the rights to Arcanum, doesn’t seem to be interested in the franchise, the chances for an official pen & paper RPG are close to zero. It’s a shame actually.

571174-fallout_3_box_super The Fallout series is another classic computer RPG franchise which lacks an official pen & paper RPG. Fallout is set in and after the 22nd and 23rd century but style and artwork are heavily influenced by the culture of 1950s America. This definitely sets Fallout apart from most other post-apocalyptic roleplaying games out there. In my humble opinion the Fallout world would work great in an pen & paper game and even the SPECIAL system used in the computer games could be easily adapted for use at the game table.
A couple years back, Jason Mical wrote a fan-made version of a Fallout Pen and Paper RPG that still has a lot of fans today. There also were plans to create a Fallout Pen & Paper d20 game, but the project had been cancelled due to legal issues between Glutton Creeper Games and Bethesda Softworks.

The Elder Scrolls
The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion Another Bethesda franchise is the Elder Scrolls series. On a first glance, the Elder Scrolls games is just another fantasy game. The continent of Tamriel has all the common fantasy tropes but also some interesting twists that would make it an interesting world for a pen & paper game.
Especially Vvardenfell, the home of the Dunmer (Dark Elves) which was setting for the third part of the series, Morrowind, is a place I would love to run adventures in. Dunmer architecture and craftsmanship really set Morrowind apart from your standard fantasy game.
Alas I’ve never heard about any plans to bring The Elder Scrolls to the game table. But there are quite a few fan conversions floating around in the intertubes. 😉
As with the aforementioned Dragon Age game, a game based on the Elder Scrolls series could probably get some people interested into the roleplaying hobby.

These are my current Top 5 games I would love to see turned into decent pen and paper games. The Dragon Age RPG has shown that it’s possible to create top-quality pen and paper games based on computer game franchises. So why not try to repeat this feat with some of the games I’ve mentioned here?

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.

23 thoughts on “Videogames that should be turned into pen & paper RPGs”

  1. I'd say I do not need that someone creates those games, since I have always created my own worlds. Altough Arcanum would be interesting, because, as much as I have wondered about magic in my games, I have never decided to introduce it…My players are too busy exploring a post apocalyptic world, to make things worse with it.

    BUT, if I collected games, as I did some time ago, I'd pick Arcanum and Fallout.
    .-= Abraham Neddermann´s last blog ..First production run =-.

  2. I've always wanted a conversion of GPG's Dungeon Siege, which had tons of vast monster lairs. The free BattleAxe RPG ( reminds me of Elder Scrolls some, with its 0-100 point rank system.

  3. To be fair there are not that many computer games which have a truly rich, original setting. I find that most of them are either adaptations of existing PnP games or were so similar to them that not really deserving a separate setting. Still other were so limited in their world representation and otherwise generic that could easily be ported to any rpg in a genre on the shelf.

    Fallout crpg is a classic and contributed so much to the post-app genre (paradoxically by bastardising eariler popular elements and motifs and combining them into an eclectic yet alluringly coherent whole) that itself it has become a canon. There are quite a few games out there which use very similar setting and with very little effort these can be "Falloutized". Starting with the ancient Aftermath and GURPS Autoduel, through various versions of the Gamma World, generic post-app D20, ending with some recent stuff like Atomic Highway. As a curiosity I'll add that there is a Polish original pnp rpg called Neuroshima (a boardgame based on this is available in English) which draws heavily from Fallout (designers are huge fans) and combines that with Terminator/Matrix-like themes of evil AI exterminating humankind.

    On a side note, Glutton Creeper actually released their material but it's called Exodus – which is a technicality because once you open the books it becomes clear what sources they've used. Everything is exacly as you would have find in the game down to their own version of the Vault Boy (Fallout series mascot). It's a bloody miracle that the Bethesda's laweyrs haven't sent cease-and-desist yet (they probably have 😉 ).

    I too love Arcanum, and for years it has been a model fantasy steampunk setting form me. I admit I haven't quite found anything like it in the Pen and Paper world but there are a few which are almost there. Castle Falkenstein comes to mind (which is bloody great game and it's a sin, a SIN I say! that it has been out of print for so long!) but it's sligtly more Victorian steampunk with fantasy elements (not that it's a bad thing) so it seems to be the same mix but different proportions. I'm struggling to think of a pnp game which would capture the fantasy victorian and steampunk themes in a balanced way like Arcanum – Iron Kingdoms maybe or perhaps one of GURPS setting books. I have to add that of all the games Stargazer have mentioned Arcanum is the one that I would love most to see reincarnated as a PnP RPG.

    Mass Effect has a rich setting and done well could be a splendid PnP game. While for me it's not particularily original or innovative, and I could think of several games which could easily pull off that type of adventuring (Alternity StarDrive or Traveller) it might actually draw ppl to the hobby by its brandname alone and heck I would probably buy the book. Citadel Station alone should last for months of intrigue and exploration.

    As a new entry I would like to mention Perihelion the Prophecy (Psygnosis/Morbid Visions 1993)

    This was another game with heavy post-appocaliptic slant (although not explicit) but slightly different flavour than Fallout – in short imagine a rugged Dark Sun-like wasteland of unimaginable dangers and psionics but the civilization before the cataclysm was highly advanced especially in fields of cybernetics and genetics but also the occult. Dark Sun analogies don't end there but the main differnce is the availability of technology. The game's sepia palette artwork was very evocative and the story captivating but it was the combination of the setting elements that stuck with me and I often wanted to incorporate some of them into a random post-app setting. Looking at that game I found that some of the motifs were used in Rifts but the atmosphere was different. Obviously no chance for this setting to be ever published as a PnP but the thought is intriguing.

  4. Forgotten to add:

    Lionheart Legacy of the Crusader (2003) – a not particularily well received Interplay game with the SPECIAL system featured in Fallout. It was so so, but I kindda liked the setting which was Elizabethan (16th Renessaince) period with fantasy elements. It had some very clever and flavoursome details like the powerful Inquisition and armada (directly linked to their historic Spanish equivalents), Mongolian Goblin Raiders (spot on), or Cortez failing to conquer the Aztecs who consolidate their Yukatan Empire (thanks to magic and sacrifice no doubt).
    I always found that historical period interesting and complex enough (reformation turmoil, dynastic conflicts) but combining that with fantasy elements could be an absolute blast, very playable. Not a direct adaptation of the crpg game then but rather an idea for an alternative history setting.

  5. @Voidman: Oh yes, Lionheart is another game that would make a great PnP game. The setting has much promise but alas the game itself wasn't that great.

  6. I don't know if you know the history of Fallout, but originally, the ruleset was going to be based on GURPS. Steve Jackson pulled out at the last minute, so they had to change it to SPECIAL.

    It's a shame. If he hadn't pulled out, it would have been really easy for them to make an RPG off of it.

    Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, Elder Scrolls also uses SPECIAL as the core system. So theoretically, if they (you know, they) made one as an RPG, it wouldn't be hard to make the other. Unless they decided to take time and effort and craft a new system for each of them, but what are the chances of that happening?

    And then there's also a battle game for Fallout, Fallout: Warfare. Not exactly what you're going for, but here's the link:… (there's a download link somewhere in there).

    .-= Aaron´s last blog ..[Review] Sikulu, the Kul Visual Programmer =-.

    1. @Aaron: As far as I remember Steve Jackson Games actually planned to release a GURPS Fallout book before they pulled out of the project. The SPECIAL system was mainly developed by Tim Cain in the last minute (when the legends are true).

    2. @Aaron: Elder Scrolls definitely doesn't use the SPECIAL system! Someone must have messed with that Wikipedia article. The only game not part of the Fallout series that used it was Lionheart – Legacy of the Crusader.

  7. I love Mass Effect, but a lot of its universe is fairly pastiche. It's primary success is that it is evidence of the Coming of Age of RPGs. Of old, CRPGs were attempts to replicate the PnP experience on the computer. Now, they do things that we could never hope to do in PnP (and still keep the game moving).

    For example, physics engines allow for very subtle and complex "spell casting" that we could never hope to replicate in PnP. Ask anyone who has played an Adept in ME2 and they will tell you about arcing their Pull field around multiple barriers in 3D space to snatch people out from cover.

    That is not to say that CRPGs are better. It is just that they have finally left the shadow of PnP and are their own quality form of entertainment. This is also why D&D is effectively dead as a computer IP, but that is another story.

  8. I really feel like the old guy here because I have not played a single one of those games! The last game adaptation I played was a homebrew a good friend of mine did based on the original Legend of Zelda game. IT was such a DARK game, which is something I did not get form playing Zelda, but it was awesome.

    When I read the descriptions I get the urge to play the game, but realize that I don’t have the time to play pen & paper RPG and computer RPG, so I stick to my true love. Of the ones mentioned above Arcanum sounds like something I would enjoy reading.

  9. @Walker

    It's slightly off topic but what the heck 😉

    "physics engines allow for very subtle and complex “spell casting” that we could never hope to replicate in PnP"

    I disagree with the above but I think I know what you're trying to say in general.

    Perhaps home computer technology finally reached the sophistication which allows to produce graphically appealing and realistic looking dynamic effects and environments but in no way is it comperable to PnP. There is nothing stopping you from creating infinitely more complex scenarios and situations in your PnP narrative because you're limited by your imagination only and you can interface with the scene in infinite number of ways. In a computer game you will be always limited and have always a finite number of options. Even highly flexible systems like your ME2 force example are constarined by a finite number of parameters – the same scene in a PnP isn't.
    To put it bluntly, there is no comparison and never has been. Just like two species evolving in different ways. PnPs almost from the start lost their dungeon shackles and started evolving into freeform open narratives, whereas crpgs remain to be just that, dungeon crawlers whith bigger "dungeons" and better graphics – they become more interactive but compared to even the simplest PnP dungeon crawl it's insignificant. I would argue that from their inception crpg were a different form only superficially similar to PnP – sharing the mechanics and setting elements dosn't mean that both should be treated as belonging to the same category – it is the way that those elements are used in the gameplay of either which separates them. They are different formats just as books and films are to one another.

    For the same reason D&D is not dead as a computer IP and could easily be used again – the problem here is likely down to licensing and also creative freedom plus potential profitability which comes with developing a new original IP.

  10. Voidman:

    I am not arguing with you about the advantages of PnP. For story, you still cannot beat PnP. You can also make house rules and mechanics on the fly, which you cannot do in CRPGs. In a CRPG you are stuck with the game mechanics foisted on you by the designer.

    But complex battle mechanics in PnP is hopeless; particularly when you get into 3D space. This is where CRPGs shine. Anything that requires complex simulation mechanics does not work well with the PnP crowd. Hell, look at how many people thought 3.x was too complicated, and it was positively streamlined.

    All I am saying is that it used to be the case that CRPGs tried to approximate the feel of PnP. Now they are completely different experience, and largely abandoning the tropes that they carried over from PnP. This means that the markets between PnP and CRPG are beginning to diverge — greatly. Nowadays, most CRPG papers have never played PnP and never will.

    And this is why D&D is dead as a computer IP. There is really no reason to play a D&D CRPG over any other well-developed fantasy CRPG (e.g. Dragon Age). The D&D brand used to guarantee a certain market of players who grew up on the PnP and then moved to computer. However, simply adapting PnP mechanics to a computer game makes for primitive gameplay, so the only thing that this license would provide is the world setting (Eberron, FRealms, etc). And for a person who has never played these in the PnP setting, why are they any better than the other CRPG worlds out there?

    Given that, any computer gaming company is going to make its own IP instead of spending the money to license it from some else. Hence Mass Effect instead of Star Wars, Dragon Age instead of D&D. When you do see D&D being bandied about as a license these days, it is by third rate studios not good enough to make IP of their own.

    D&D has a long healthy life as a PnP product. But unless Wizards makes its own computer game studio, it will doomed to crappy computer games.

  11. That's in an interesting topic you got there, I just had to write a post about it too!

    I definitely agree with your list but there are dozen more that I would like to add. How about Final Fantasy, Bioshock, Avatar, Kingdom Hearts, Fable and Dragon Quest. All of them have their own unique world.

    *sigh.. too many games that I would like to have try on, but maybe, like you said, Dragon Age's success will give a boost to something good.
    .-= MkaY´s last blog ..Video Games I would like to see around the table. =-.

    1. Hehe, I know that problem. Often when I get a new computer game or watch a movie, read a book, I think to myself: "This would make an awesome setting for a pen & paper RPG". 🙂

  12. @Walker


    I suspect you don't and I'm not accusing you of arguing that – I realise that you only praised a more visceral 3D experience of scenes in current crpgs.

    I also wasn't focucing on so much a story development but the mechanics of a scene.

    I think it depends how simulationist you are in your approach – the nature of PnP is that any described scene is still somewhat open i.e. has a substantial degree of abstaraction – even if you use maps, plans, dioramas etc a player or GM can extrapolate those and add content whereas with 3D space in a computer game you're still constrained by a set of predetermined finite variables you can interact with – yes I concur the representation is more appealing to our perception but again I would not place it in the same category as PnP. As I said it's a different experience neither better nor worse – different media if you will – but somehow I think that this is an aspect that you are driving at as well 😉

    Regarding the other matter you touched upon. I would also agree that crpg is a different creature today but for a sligtly different reason. Perception changes. The genre identity is being challenged and ultimately redefined by action rpg games which use simplified represetations of the rules and emphasize dynamic aspects of the gameplay. Its fine I don't mind but I don't think them necessarily superior to old school crpgs. As for the D&D being a viable option for crpg well, I still think it is just as much as any other property, in the end it boils down to production value and design of the game – adapting PnP games to crpgs doesn't necessarily make the gameplay primitive, poor design does. For instance would you call Planscape Torment crpg, first KOTOR or Fallout primitive? Both used a mechanical framework modelled after a PnP (in case of Torment it was a D&D port, KOTOR d20). Most certainly they didn't offer that flexibility of spacial interactivity as Mass Effect or graphical richness of Dragon Age but was the rpg experience more primitive in terms of characterisation or story development? Debatable. I suspect though that it might be easier to build a system from scratch with the view of the gamplay engine rather than build an engine around the given ruleset.

    I think you have a point that using an established PnP IP (like D&D) is not always conducive to a success of a computer game because in the end the crpg game can have any setting and work – but again this is nothing new and has been part of computer games industry from the begining (e.g. Ultima, Wizardry, Fallout more recently Witcher and various other). It can have its benefits however – well developed setting and marketing power of the brand, as well as its constraints – licensing obligations, limited ways to capitalize on the property and limited creative freedom being the obvious ones. Also, think of other PnP properties and their crpg gaming potential Call of Cthulhu, or World of Darkness (which BTW has a highly acclaimed adaptation in Vampire: Bloodlines crpg), even Star Wars. That's somewhat speculative however and I rambled off topic long enough (sorry Stargazer 😉 ). Let's leave it at that.

    You have mede interesting points though and thanks for your refutation.

  13. Re: Fallout — wasn't the game that was SUPPOSED to be Fallout-d20 turned into another game that had most of the same look and feel? Though, yeah, I'd love to see it fully done, fully licensed and everything. Especially after seeing "The Book of Eli" this weekend :-}

    Other video games I'd like to see as P&P RPGs:

    GTA-III … the full world (Liberty City, Vice City, and the one that is based on LA/SF/LV). Probably not TOO hard to do on your own, but it'd still be nice to see a full write-up of it.

    SunDog: The Frozen Legacy (look it up on Wikipedia)

    Ultima 1, Ultima II, and Ultima III. Probably also the follow on games, but especially Ultima 1. There were a few other contemporary games (tile based RPGs) of that era that might be interesting to see as well.

    The Wing Commander series (incl. Privateer).

    maybe "Star Fleet I" (mainly for the story world).

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