Roleplaying in the world of The Elder Scrolls series

Recently I have started playing “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim” again. The fifth game in the Elder Scrolls series is one of my favorite computer games and even though some people call it “dumbed down”, I still love it a lot. What I like the most about the game (aside from the open gameplay and the excellent soundtrack) is it’s lore. The Elder Scrolls universe can easily compete with famous D&D worlds like the Forgotten Realms. There’s a history stretching back thousands of years, there are nine playable races with different cultures, there are memorable characters and a vast world to explore. What makes The Elder Scrolls interesting is that while it shares a lot of tropes with “regular” fantasy worlds, most of them come with a “twist”.

As a long-time fan of the series I often mused about running a TES-inspired roleplaying campaign. Of course a project like this can be pretty daunting, but my recent success with my Fallout conversion to Fudge, made me consider working on a TES pen & paper game again. Writing a conversion to Fudge would probably work, but I also see a lot of similarities between the system used in the Elder Scrolls computer games and Runequest. Both are basically skill-based and use percentile values. In both RQ and the TES games you improve your skills by using them. Both magic systems are based on some kind of spell points. Writing a TES conversion for Runequest shouldn’t be particularly hard.

The big question is how closely I want the rules to resemble the source material. If the focus is on converting the setting (and not the rules), you can basically use Savage Worlds, Fate Core, etc. without much hassle. But for some reason I feel that the mechanics used in the TES series are part of its charm. At the moment I am looking into various RQ variants and other systems to find mechanics that closely fit my vision of a TES pen & paper game, so that the work to write a conversion is minimized.

Alas using computer roleplaying games as a basis for pen & paper campaigns also has its share of problems. If your players are avid fans of the series you can’t just recycle quests and stories from the computer games, and they may actually know the lands of Tamriel better than the GM. Especially the latter may cause long discussions with your players. Another common issue is that computer game worlds are often extremely small. I still cringe when I think about Ultima IX’s Britannia. The capital of a whole continent was reduced to a handful of houses. Ouch. In such cases the immersion goes right out of the window! Luckily the world of Tamriel feels almost big enough to not have this particular problem.

At the moment I’m in a very early planning phase because I am still busy running Fallout Fudged! and my other group has expressed interest in Shadowrun. But as I wrote in an earlier post, I’ve decided to start planning earlier. What are your thoughts on this project? What system would you use? Do you think Fudge might work or do I need something a little bit more crunchy? What about Runequest? Please share your thoughts 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.

15 thoughts on “Roleplaying in the world of The Elder Scrolls series”

  1. I don’t have my notes posted – my play reports yes, but not my GM guide or adventures (which are going to be pretty crude but maybe useful).

  2. I have quite a bit of material. I tried to keep things as simple as I could. Take some time to check out the intro movie, the player journals and play reports. If it sparks your interest I could put a package together for you of all my adventure notes to date and GM guide, handouts etc. My focus was material for the game, not creating a setting guide to Tamriel. Example, the monsters are have are the one’s I’ve used, nothing more.

  3. I think Skyrim would be awesome on WR&M. I think the lore is more important than the crunch on Skyrim. Spend your time getting the maps right, increasing the size of the settlements and making some of the areas more interesting to visit. Use the names and the characters but grow the places to explore. And make knee armour.

  4. The latest version has a really sweet if I may say so Imperial City and most of the labeling is done for Cyrodil. And thank you. I will share it freely when done of course. In CC3 format at png.

    I just wanted to offer all this because a) I love TES and it’s lore, B) I’m having a very successful campaign which I think might mean it may be more useful than other conversions out there that get made, but not played. This one is being played and we are LOVING it! It is the most fun I’ve had in the 30+ years I’ve been gaming.

  5. Oh, and I really wanted to share something with the one who brought us WYRM. That is a delightful game. And I know you like BBF so…there you go!

  6. I myself am currently exploring systems I can ‘bastardise’ (an actual word so NOT foul language) yes lore and setting is vital.
    But I must concur it is the rule set that screams TES and why I refuse to just slap this as a campaign setting for something such as DnD.
    Have been told to glance at things by Chaosium

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