Category Archives: Basic Roleplaying

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!

Recommended Reading: The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross

This morning I finished reading “The Atrocity Archive”, a short novel by author Charles Stross, which has been released in the book called “The Atrocity Archives” which also contains the short story “The Concrete Jungle” also written by Stross. Although I had to struggle with Stross’ writing style a couple of times I had a blast reading the book. So what’s the Atrocity Archive about?

It’s the story of Bob Howard, an IT guy working for The Laundry, a UK secret government agency which protects the UK from all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors. It’s not set in Lovecraft’s world per se, but Stross was definitely inspired by it and he even mentions Cthulhu and Nyarlathothep among other things. Over the course of the story the protagonist transfers to active duty in the agency, has to deal with the insane bureaucracy of The Laundry, fight extrauniversal horrors, and deal with a threat that could very well be the end of our known universe. Whoah! I won’t get into more detail on the story here, because the story holds a couple of interesting surprises that I don’t want to spoil here. All this is accompanied by a healthy dose of a pretty dark British humor.

Stross’ writing style is fast, sometimes a bit overwhelming, but always fun to read and very cinematic. I am pretty sure the book could easily be turned into an exciting movie. Ah, I forgot to mention one important aspect of the fictional universe the story is set in: mathematics can be magic. There are certain calculations that open leaks to other, distant universes. Luckily the maths involved are very complicated and before the advent of computers it was very had to pull off certain spells. But nowadays you can run magic software on your Palm Pilot (or Necronomiphone). This is unknown to the world and everyone who stumbles upon this secret – cultists, mathematicians, the IT guy in your company’s basement – are either killed or recruited to The Laundry or similar agencies.

The LaundryIf you now think this would make a great setting for a roleplaying game then you’re right. There even is an official The Laundry RPG by Cubicle 7 using Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system. But if you prefer a system more suited to the pulpy style of Stross’ stories, you could probably run a game using Savage Worlds, Realms of Cthulhu, and Agents of Oblivion. Whatever you use The Laundry Files series for, inspiration for your Call of Cthulhu game or just for your entertainment, it’s definitely highly recommended to anyone who likes Lovecraftian horror, British humor, and has at least some familiarity with higher mathematics or working in IT.

Freebies: Renaissance

Renaissance SRD Yay! I have been waiting for this since I first read about it: Renaissance is a free roleplaying system designed for historical and fantasy games in, as the authors put it, “age of blackpowder weapons”. It was created by Peter Cakebread and Ken Walton who are known for Clockwork & Chivalry 1st Edition and Abney’ Park’s Airship Pirates. Renaissance is based on D101 Games’ OpenQuest which itself is based on Mongoose Publishing’s Runequest SRD.

The 139-paged PDF contains all the rules needed to play, two magic systems and a bestiary. Kudos to Cubicle 7 and Cakebread & Walton for releasing the rules for free. The PDF doesn’t contain any artwork, but that’s negligible especially since the PDF is mainly meant as a System Reference Document. The rules of the game can be used under the OGL.

If you are a fan of Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying and Runquest, you actually have the choice between quite a few different rule variants now. There’s Renaissance, Mongoose Publishing’s Legend, D101 Games’ OpenQuest, Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying and Goblinoid Games’ GORE. All those games are more or less compatible, so you can use material designed for one game in the other with ease.

Renaissance looks pretty interesting because it was created with the Renaissance era in mind. The magic system also looks pretty unique. If you’re looking for a skill-based RPG with a percentile dice mechanic, you should definitely check Renaissance out!