Over the years, some tabletop RPGs translated their exciting mechanics into the video game world. Here are some of their best adaptations.
By Mervyn Jones
Published Jan 10, 2021
The evolution of the?RPG genre throughout the years, from Dungeons and Dragons?predecessor?Chainmail?to modern games like?The Elder Scrolls franchise, has been impressive to say the least. Games that started off as little more than chess pieces and dice have become immense worlds filled with stories and characters unimaginable to the early pioneers of the genre.
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Either due to recent social restrictions, or just a lack of players, the transition from pen-to-paper to digital code has become a necessity for a lot of us, whether that means finding ways to emulate the tabletop experience through the web, or finding new ways to satisfy the gaming urge. That being said, here are a handful of our favorite video games that have either directly adapted, or otherwise translated tabletop systems to a digital experience. Roll for initiative!
A dark fantasy tactical RPG directly?taken from the?Dungeons & Dragons multiverse,?Planescape: Torment?takes place in “Sigil,” a city dug into the literal center of the multiverse. The city contains multiple portals for?its inhabitants to travel between the outer planes?(hence the title), which allows players much more variety?in terms of exploration.
The?recent remaster,?Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition?multiplies the fun with HD graphics, better multiplayer, and a list of gameplay patches.
The?Call of Cthulhu games are vastly different, from plot and play style to?reception from fans.?While some adaptations are objectively lesser, the?Call of Cthulhu tabletop games have consistently captivated a dedicated (while admittedly small) crowd.?While more hardcore fans might recommend buying?the original campaigns in?Fantasy Grounds, the?digital sets can be pricey, and casual players will find just as much enjoyment in?Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, a strategy game set in the eldritch battlefields of WWII.
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Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics?and the Fantasy Grounds sets are both equally worthy of players’ time, but gamers finding themselves short on cash (or just less?committed to the genre) will be more drawn to?Achtung’s?streamlined mechanics and shorter play times.
The?Shadowrun series uses many of the same systems as?Dungeons & Dragons, translating the races and classes to a more cyberpunk setting, while keeping?a good balance of fantasy. The three most recent games,?Shadowrun Returns, Hong Kong,?and?Dragonfall, all have their merits in the world of roleplaying games, and are worth a look for players intrigued by the world.?Veteran fans, however,?will often recommend?Dragonfall?over the rest, due to tightened mechanics and storytelling.
Star Wars fans have long been delighted with the success of the?Knights of the Old Republic games, which took many systems from the 1987 TTRPG and enhanced them into an impressive open world. Modernized as it may be,?KOTOR provides an experience that feels not-too-far from the original tabletop setting, with clever story hooks, an alignment system, team-based combat, and dynamic leveling trees.
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Both?KOTOR games are worth a buy for TTRPG gamers and fans of?Star Wars alike, and are relatively easy to pick up for newcomers to the series. KOTOR?also does a fantastic job catering to fans of both the cinematic and extended universe,?as it keeps?the classic?Star Wars?feel while also charting bold new territory for the series as a whole.
Before?Bethesda’s hit release of?Fallout 3, which was the first in the series to follow a more modern RPG system, the series followed a much more tabletop inspired format. Some fans of the franchise will go so far as to say that the early?Fallout games provide a much more immersive roleplaying experience than recent entries, as the storytelling is more dynamic and open-ended?for player characters.
The first two games boast overwhelmingly positive reviews on their respective Steam pages, and are?highly recommended for any fans of the genre.
Another direct adaptation from?Dungeons & Dragons,?Icewind Dale takes players to the Spine of the World, in the northernmost reaches of the Forgotten Realms. With diverse options for party building, immersive world maps, and definitive combat,?Icewind Dale is a must for fans of classic RPGs, and even comes with multiplayer options to make play throughs feel more authentic to the game’s tabletop origin.
Not only is?Pillars a fantastically realized isometric RPG, but its character development and branching narrative have elevated it to a legendary status by critics and players alike. From the developers of?Fallout: New Vegas?and?South Park: Stick of Truth,?Pillars of Eternity takes a unique, more streamlined approach to?D&D’s character building systems, allowing different approaches for any player’s preferred style.
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Any fans of?New Vegas’ famous?roleplaying freedom will find the same creative joy in?Pillars of Eternity,?while simultaneously scratching any player’s itch for well-written fantasy content, something the gaming community will never grow tired of.
Down to the dice rolls and branching character development,?Disco Elysium gets the?tabletop formula perfectly right. It even gets the?video game formula perfectly right. Many players’?story of the year for 2019,?Disco Elysium places the RPG genre into the world of a detective, who is entirely at the whim of the player. The developers themselves claim “nothing is off the table,” as players are encouraged to take advantage of the world and its citizens to tell the story they want. Become a millionaire, a disaster, a folk hero, the world is as vast as the choices made therein.
From?D&D’s Forgotten Realms,?Baldur’s Gate took more than a handful GOTY awards on its release in 1998, and is still going strong with a third entry in early access since October, which is already sweeping players into an unprecedented next-gen adventure while raising the bar for both character creation and optimized?party building mechanics.
The series as a whole is worth checking out for?D&D fans, with?the first two entries available as remasters, and the third releasing in its final form soon. Any fan of the genre is guaranteed to be?more than satisfied, given the?franchise’s track record.
Yet another story directly taken from the pages of?Dungeons & Dragons campaigns,?Neverwinter Nights takes a more MMO-like approach to the Forgotten Realms. Alongside its beautiful worldbuilding,?Neverwinter Nights?contains not only 100+ hours of award-winning adventures, but allows players the tools to craft their own stories for both solo and co-op play. The Steam workshop also contains dozens of mods, overhauls, and community-made campaigns for diehard players to enjoy.
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About The Author
(31 Articles Published)
Mervyn Jones is an artist and games writer based in Michigan. Through his career, he has studied the artistic side of gaming, from game theory to design philosophy. After graduating from the Interlochen Arts Academy, he has scripted and illustrated tabletop games, comics, and several other collaborative projects. Alongside his industry-adjacent jobs, Mervyn is now working at Valnet as a freelance writer for GameRant.
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