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RPGBOT.Podcast S2 E8 – Adapting Media to a Tabletop RPG (Part 1)

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss adapting media to tabletop RPGs. We talk about identifying what you like about a piece of media, picking the right RPG, and adapting RPGs that you already know and love to fit the story you want to tell. Then, we follow our own advice and adapt some of our favorite pieces of media.

Due to the length of the episode, we’ve split this episode into two parts. Whenever you’re ready, enjoy part 2, where the hosts explore Random and Tyler’s example media and answer the question of the week.

If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick, free way to support the podcast, and helps us reach new listeners.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James and I welcome you to our new Archer D&D themed game. With me is Lana.

Random 

I’m gonna say that that’s me this time. So hi, good evening.

Tyler 

Isn’t Lana your cat’s name?

Randall 

Lana is also my cat’s name, but no, no, Lana’s in Archer. It was a whole thing I was gonna do. Anyway. Tyler Kamstra, too. whatever.

Tyler 

Hi everybody. I’m not a cat.

Random 

Oh, Patreon folks are gonna enjoy that one.

Randall 

I think everybody’s gonna enjoy that one. That’s staying in. And Random Powell of course already spoke up earlier. Random Powell is not in fact, Lana. He’s also not a cat. And he’s with us.

Random 

Howdy.

Randall 

All right, Tyler, what are we going to do today?

Tyler 

Well, today, we’re going to talk about adapting media to a tabletop RPG. So this is kind of a subject that gets discussed a lot in various online discussion forums. You will encounter some exciting piece of popular media and say, Hey, how do I do this as a tabletop RPG? And very frequently, like, hey, how do I make this Dungeons and Dragons? And we’re going to explore kind of a how to on how to do those things. And then we’re going to look at some fun examples.

Randall 

Yeah, I think that makes perfect sense. And for folks who, like, they’ve heard of Dungeons and Dragons, and they watch, you know, a fantasy film, or they read a novel, or they play a game, they’re like, I want to do that. But I want to do that with my friends instead of alone. The question feels natural, right? Like, how do I take this rule set that I have heard of? Because for a lot of folks, I feel like they don’t know other games exist. I think I was definitely in that camp. Like, yeah, there’s Dungeons and Dragons, and nothing else exists. That’s it. That’s the end of it. I didn’t realize that there were different editions. You know, at one point in my life, I just the D&D, and it’s been there for 40 years.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

boy. I’m just thinking like, if 40 years ago’s D&D was still we were all playing today.

Tyler 

Oh god no. No more lookup tables, please. Yeah, that is pretty common. A lot of people Dungeons Dragons is your first RPG. For a lot of people Dungeons Dragons is your last RPG, too. It may be just the one game you play for your entire life and you never feel the need to branch out. And there’s a lot of merit to branching out and playing every other RPG.

Randall 

There was a brief moment where I thought what you meant is D&D kills them. And so I’m glad you clarified.

Tyler 

I have been playing tabletop RPGs for 20 years now. And probably, like, 99% of that game time has been Dungeons and Dragons of some variety.

Randall 

And I can’t promise Tyler Kamstra is still alive.

Random 

If there was ever going to be a demilich, bringing you a podcast, it’s RPGBOT.

Tyler 

That’s, that’s the retirement plan. Guys just turn into a demilich and continue the podcast.

Randall 

Good. Good.

Tyler 

So I want to talk about some examples. Video games are very frequently what I see brought up the most because there’s so much overlap between tabletop gamers and video gamers. Like I, you know, I’ve got Steam loaded up on the machine that I’m using to record this podcast. Definitely overlap there. It’s not quite a circle, but it’s a very small Venn diagram. So a lot of times a new video game will come out and people look at the video game say, hey, there’s something about this that really, really catches my attention. And I want to bring this to the tabletop somehow. So popular examples. Dark Souls is still, like, still a huge point of discussion. And a lot of people are looking for ways to adapt it. Darkest Dungeon every time it gets a major update or whatever, people come back and they’re like, hey, I want to make dark, Darkest Dungeon into a D&D game. The Elder Scrolls series every time there’s a new game that comes out or every time Skyrim releases again.

Randall 

Right in the heart.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

Or, I suppose in the knee.

Tyler 

Lord of the Rings is a classic. There’s been various adaptations of The Lord of the Rings setting into D&D. The Witcher. Another popular one. I haven’t seen the Wheel of Time discussed, but I’m basically just waiting at this point for people to say, Hey, I watched the Wheel of Time. I would like to do that as D&D now. Sometimes you do see some crazier ones out there like Doom, personal favorite of mine, just trying to try to make Doom fit into D&D. We’ll get there someday.

Random 

It’s interesting that you mentioned like that systems are things that people want to bring in. And there’s a really kind of neat segue here. So you look at all of these things. And I would assume that it is also a very small Venn diagram, again, not a circle, but a very small Venn Diagram of people who are playing role playing games for fun, and people who grew up reading a lot of fantasy and sci fi. And I know that, for me personally, one of the things that I always really enjoyed whenever I approached some new fantasy setting was learning the magic system. That was one of the big things that actually drew me to one of my favorite series, as a YA a reader, the Garth Nix, Sabriel/Lirael/Abhorsen series, just that way that magic was done, and necromancy in particular, very cool. But what that really hits on and particularly as you look at all of these things the vast majority of the things that Tyler talked about a moment ago they’re all functionally the same setting. They’re a kind of grim, mid to high magic fantasy trope setting. So the real thing to ask yourself, as you’re trying to do this is “why?” What about that setting do you actually want to play? Is it a mechanic? Is it a set of characters that you want to import? Is it the world itself because, you know, something about the world is very cool. And there’s no wrong answer here. If I wanted to bring the magic system in from the Sanriel series, then great, and you know, the place to go from there. If you want to bring from Lord of the Rings Tolkien’s truly impressive quantity of world history and lore, which is all really good, then go for it. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you could want to do this.

Randall 

I think that’s a great point to make. There’s the world. And so in your open world RPG, or I should say, computer RPGs, that open world environment can be really interesting. And you can think about like, what adventure what I put in this setting? How would a group of tabletop adventurers interact with the general mythos of what is happening to include maybe even the adventure being played in the game. And I want to come back to that in a second. You bring up what I’ll call like the hard magic systems where there is an understanding of what magic is, and you know, Lord of the Rings is the farthest away from this where I’m actually still it is unclear to me, who has the power to use any magic when, where or what and why. And like, why couldn’t we solve half these problems with your magic, kind sir? instead of tossing tiny people into blizzards? That’s my feeling on it. Versus you take that all the way to, you know, something like Elder Scrolls, it’s pretty obvious, right? You eat a wheel of cheese and then you cast the magic. And we’re done. You know, The Witcher, there’s rules for it. And you can, I think there’s something there. So I say this to say like, you could bring in the mechanics and say, I think the mechanics for how we handle fighting or how we handle magic, how we handle boosting our powers by taking potions and this sort of thing is interesting. The thing that I think is hardest that I think is worth maybe poking at is in film when you see characters in an adventure, having an adventure, and you say to yourself, I want to recreate that adventure as part of a tabletop experience. Again, I’ll go back to Lord of the Rings and I’ll say, if you have two characters, and they want to play as Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom to throw the ring in, there’s only so many ways I feel like to tell that story and it feels restricting. What do you guys think?

Tyler 

I definitely agree. There’s only so many times you can tell the story of two guys going on a walk. There’s this exercise, I think it came out of Amazon actually, like Amazon’s software development and development people. So it’s “the five why’s.” Basically, you ask you ask someone “why?”

Randall 

It’s Toyota, actually .

Tyler 

Is it Toyota? Thank you.

Randall 

Tyler 

So you ask someone why five times? Like, why do you want to play Frodo and Sam, you say, because I like the idea of two people going on an adventure together and going through hardships and you say, Okay, why do you like of that? And you keep going and like every time you ask why you get finer and finer detail, and about by the time you ask the fifth time, you’ll have a good sense of exactly what you’re looking to replicate from that experience. And that that central concept of exactly what you’re trying to replicate is what you should use to move forward.

Randall 

Yeah, I think. I’m 100% with you. And I’ll say even here, like, the second way to me is actually why are Sam and Frodo the right characters to bring you that experience?

Tyler 

That’s a good question. Yeah.

Randall 

No, because you could have other adventures and you could you could have an experience in that world. Why is the adventure that we’ve already seen take place the right adventure? But taking a step back, there’s a rich amount of things that you could try to accomplish. There were famously a lot of other rings. What’s happening with those? What’s the history? Some of this is filled in. Some of its available. You could treat that as like the basis for the mythology. But at that point, it’s your game go nuts. Go have fun.

Tyler 

This is super off topic. But Amazon just announced that their new Lord of the Rings show is going to be called the Rings of Power. So we might get an answer to that question.

Random 

Right.

Randall 

That’s fair.

Random 

Specifically for something as established as Lord of the Rings. One of the other things that you should really look at, and I know that, especially for people who, you know, have only been playing for a little while, or you know, only have a lot of experience with just the one system, it can be definitely a little bit frightening to be like, Okay, well, I am very comfortable with fifth edition. I don’t want to go look at something else. But of the things that we’ve just named Lord of the Rings in particular has a quite robust role playing tabletop game system that has several editions and it’s up to date, it’s good. And that’s a great place to start if you want to try playing a Lord of the Rings story.

Randall 

Well, and to cut in, so the One Ring is one of those systems, the second edition of it is actually releasing right now. So Kickstarter, folks who participated in it, have a PDF of the ruleset available to them right now. And the big, the books should be arriving any moment. I say that to say that you’re 100%, right. These systems do exist, created for that world.

Random 

Yeah, I have previously taught a class that I talked about way back in episode zero as to why you my opinion is worth anything. And one of the things that I did was just go through and look at the Wikipedia article for list of role playing game systems. It is several hundred entries. If you want to play something, there is probably a rule set that will get you really close if not the exact thing that you’re looking for. Once you have boiled it down to the why if this, you know, if the why is man I just want to play cowboys in the space. Then great. You’ve even got your pick, you can do Edge of the Empire if you want to handle shenanigans dice. You can do the Firefly role playing game system, which exists and is, as far as I know, it’s just the one book but like, it’s a decent book. If you want to do futuristic stuff, there’s tons of options there. If you want to do, you know, your traditional high fantasy or even delve into Lovecraft mythos, there’s so many options. Obviously, a lot of you know the things that we’re talking about things like, okay, maybe Dark Souls doesn’t have an exact grim dark fantasy I need to roll around in parry. One of the things that you should be paying attention to is as you go to pull the “Why do I want to play this?” out of something, your second question after you have pulled out what you want to play is, will this be a good thing for four people? For my table? Because a lot of video games are single-player experiences that super do not translate well to multiplayer.

Randall 

I’m imagining four players sitting at the table talking about other characters are each just rolling circles around the boss.

Tyler 

That would be some interesting, interesting hitboxes. Looking at different rule sets to solve the challenge is really important. You do need to ask yourself, is what I’m trying to do better suited to a different RPG? And is using that different RPG more work than adapting something that I’m already familiar with. Because, yeah, there there really are PJ’s out there for everything. I have at least three PDF RPGs about playing houseplants. And I, I’m not kidding.

Randall 

Why?

Tyler 

What a great question. I haven’t finished reading them. I’ll get back to you in future.

Random 

The short answer is because someone said “I want to play at the house plant” and wrote it. That’s it.

Tyler 

Basically, yeah. So so you can find RPGs for basically anything now that doesn’t necessarily mean that any my new concept that you come up with that you want to play, you have to go hunting for some new RPG to learn. There does come a point where it’s like okay, I’ve got all of these different stories I want to tell. I don’t have time to learn 20 different different RPG so maybe you go with something generic like savage worlds or GURPS or something like that fate and then just basically adapt that game to whatever you’re playing. A lot of the big things that get a lot of traction like Elder Scrolls, Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, Dragon Age, those all have official RPG adaptations. They’re not always fantastic, Unfortunately. Sometimes they are really good and you can steal some really cool ideas from them, even if you do not care about that setting one bit. But if you’re going to play those major properties, definitely look at the official RPGs at the very least, and then, you know, see if they fit your taste. If not, then yeah, just adjust something that you already know and love.

Randall 

So one thing I’ll bring up to this is that there is an expense to this. And this is a hobby that some of us are willing to dump infinite sums of money into and other people are reasonable and financially responsible. I say that to say, you know, I can imagine as a DM taking some of the world building and some of the adventure that you can pull from those resources or that you can pull generally like from from the game or the media itself. But it is comfortable to bring it back and skin it on top of the game that your your group is already playing. Whether that’s D&D, whether that’s, you know, one of the Pathfinder editions. I guess I say that to say, like rolling it back. If the adventure, if the world, if the mythos is the thing that really draws you, I do think it’s perfectly fine to say okay, look, I’m just gonna skin this on top of, hey, my D&D world is Middle Earth, the gods are as such, and we’re going to have a good time with it. And make like the minimalist mechanical changes that you can make to make that make sense. So one thing, there’s probably not like a lot of sorcerers, wizards, and warlocks running around.

Random 

Yeah, not so much. I mean, basically, if you can use magic, it’s because you are a specifically named Wizard and/or an angel.

Randall 

Yeah.

Random 

One of the other things. And to carry nicely off of the, this can cost a lot of money. If you go trying hunting down all these systems. You can also just build one. I will also talk about a thing that happened in that class. So one of the exercises that I ran, I would ask the kids to sit down with a limited amount of resources and build a game system. The purpose of this was to actually use it as a communications exercise where I would have them in partners build a game system, write down the rules for it, and then without telling them that I was going to do this, have them stand up, go sit down at someone else’s station and try and play the game that was in front of them. And it was basically about a exercise in understanding your biases and your preconceptions, and how that prevents you from communicating effectively. However, some groups went really hard with this. And so a pair of my kids, they said, Well, okay, we couldn’t really figure out what we wanted to do. And we had been just thinking about Texas Hold’em. And so they said, what if, what if instead, we make a role playing game, where you take narrative control for a turn by winning a hand of Texas Hold’em.

Randall 

Oh! Go on.

Random 

And what they did in the class was, it was just like, wow, that’s a fascinating concept. And you know, they only had maybe half an hour to work on that or something. But I came back… this camp happens every year when it’s not a pandemic. And we usually had a lot of repeat people. So I ended up as the person in charge of a couple of these kids later, like, four years later, and I come in to check in on them in one night and they are playing that game still, that they have now written out a full ruleset for about how they are basically just playing Hold’em, but like the betting is like betting story points. And when you win the hand, you basically get to control the narrative for like a 10 second block. And it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The rules were absolutely bare bones. But they were having a good time, which is the only thing you need to do. And it was just breathtaking to see. My point there is you can just write these. Yeah, take some time. But here’s a pair of teenagers getting the bones down in half an hour. If you are the one trying to run your game like this, maybe it takes a few sessions of writing. But you can absolutely just make the system you want to see.

Randall 

Yeah, that’s a really cool idea for a system. I feel like I remember the Greetings Adventures folks, when they used to do Random Encounters they played., they played a game that had kind of a similar setup. And it seemed to fascinating. Like the idea that you could… exactly that. Like we’re gonna Here’s the setup. Here’s the situation that we’re in. Now we’re gonna roll some dice or we’re gonna have some conflict and Hold’em is a wonderful way of resolving that where like, I can literally Ante up and say, Yes, but are you willing to risk? What happens if I win the hand? And then based on that you had to do improv to basically move the story forward to the next story point, honoring the results of, you know, whatever competitive thing you did. Yeah, that sounds like a great time.

Tyler 

Essentially, all you need is a conflict resolution mechanic. Like you can tell any story with any conflict resolution mechanic. Sometimes having one that suits the style of game is really nice. I could see playing Texas Hold’em or any variety of poker being really cool for like a wild west RPG.

Random 

It was, it was steampunk themed.

Tyler 

Well, there you go. Flawless.

Random 

Yeah.

Tyler 

That’s awesome! There, there are a few RPGs now that use a Jenga tower as the conflict resolution mechanic. So you pull a piece whenever you do something that’s a challenge, and if the tower falls, you die. And it’s a very intentional mechanic that you can be like, Okay, I need this thing to happen. I’m going to intentionally knock over the tower and, like, depending on how you design your conflict resolution mechanic to fit into your RPG can really affect how you tell that story.

Randall 

Okay.

Tyler 

But if you’re comfortable with D&D, or something similar, it’s totally fine to just like a d20 roll plus modifier against target number. That is perfectly fine as a resolution mechanic.

Randall 

I want to go meta for a second, I had been staring for most of night at this line that said “Steampunk Texas Hold’em” and I had no idea how we were going to get there. So thank you very much for having that resolved. Awesome. I want to maybe step back to the top. So we talked about how to bring an adventuring world in and quite honestly, that for a lot of the worlds folks are most interested in, you might be able to go find an RPG already built for that world that you’re excited about. But if you are going to try to put it on to a tabletop game that we know and love, and by know and love, I mean, everybody at your table actually has access to resources to. You can still bring that world in, but you might have to make mechanical adjustments. And we’ve talked about what some of those mechanical adjustments might be. But I think taking a step back and looking to, like, what tools are already in our toolbox? And how can we help folks think through the right mechanical adjustments?

Tyler 

That’s kind of a difficult adjustment… a difficult challenge, and the answer changes depending on what you’re trying to get.

Randall 

Well, it’s not very satisfying.

Tyler 

I know, I know. So, fifth edition D&D and Pathfinder second edition both include a lot of variant and optional rules in the core rule books. And starting from there is actually a really, really good idea because the optional rules that they chose to include specifically are to cater to different styles of games. Like let’s say your you want to play a samurai-inspired court politics and honor are a big part of the game. Fifth Edition D&D has a variant rule in it for honor as an ability score. And you just throw that in, make a few other adjustments maybe. And then yeah, there you go. You’ve got something that fits the theme. PF2 and fifth edition both have sanity and horror rules that were great for a horror game. If you want to do more of an emphasis emphasis on like Cthulhu mythos that would work. If you want to do something like Darkest Dungeon, throwing in those sanity rules could work. Now, of course, the official published variants might not exactly do what you want. So yeah, take a look at them, maybe take them as as they are. Maybe just take them as inspiration and make your own adjustments. But starting from just those official published ferrets does give you a lot of like pre tested tools in the toolbox to solve these challenges.

Randall 

Yeah, I’m just imagining taking Darkest Dungeon to D&D 5e. Like, what would I do as a DM I would come as it come in as a DM, I would have a stack of character sheets and I would shuffle them and hand out to the characters and say, “Hey, we’re going in.”

Tyler 

Hey, that I would play that game.

Random 

That sounds suspiciously like something we’ve talked about. Hm…

Tyler 

Yes.

Randall 

But yeah, it’d be cool right? Because like you you go you have your adventure where it’s just like I go in, I get out. I find, I don’t know, flags and busts and stuff. And you kind sir are going to go sit at the bar and have a drink and you are going to go enjoy some gentle flagellation until you feel better about things. If you haven’t played that game: real weird. Like they basically have like canonized “the beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Tyler 

Yes. People like Darkest Dungeon for good reason. It’s a really fun RPG with some cool mechanics. And yeah, you can adapt that to D&D, just using those official variants like I suggested. You could throw the sanity rules on there just fine. And then, like, if you want to simulate the rotating cast of adventurers, yeah, shuffling a stack of character sheets that are maybe randomly generated that works too. Or you can build your own characters just like these characters have gone on adventures, one of them failed the sanity roll, so they can’t go on the next X adventures. So you have to have a rotating staple of characters. So in a lot of ways that would feel kind of like a West Marches game in that you’ve got a rotating cast every session. But it’s not because like real world players are unavailable, it’s because your character is off having a crazy time.

Randall 

The character is literally unavailable.

Random 

One of the last things that I want to touch on before we start digging into the some of the real real nitty gritty of stuff. There is a RPG system that I found recently that is actually explicitly designed for importing other media, it is called “.Dungeon.” It is preposterously hard to Google because the name of it is literally just a period and then the word dungeon, which Google does not like, you can find there’s a I think it’s the verge article that will link in the show notes. And the thing is, it is functionally just a conflict resolution system. And that’s it. And then it’s basically on you to import whatever you want. I’ve gotten to play a couple sessions of this over the last month and it’s a great time. It, it really heavily relies on your capacity to improvise, or spending a lot of time writing your world down ahead of time, because there’s a grand total of three published… I can’t even say modules, because they’re, they’re very short. But the system itself is meant to be augmented reality. The whole premise is that your players are not their characters, your players are themselves logging into a video game, where they play as characters. There is actually a lot of meta stuff that goes into the system. Like, if you are a mage, part of being a mage is that you bring a book to the session. And that is your spell book. And it is on you to highlight passages in the book and prepare three of, prepare three of them as your spells for the day. And when you cast the spell, your game master adjudicates what it does, and then you cross it out and you can never use it again. If you play as the which class, you get bonuses based on the piercings and tattoos you have. If you…

Randall 

Literally?

Random 

Literally.

Tyler 

This is wonderful!

Random 

Yes. I loved this the moment I read it. You can go buy the PDF, it’s on the creator’s Itch.Io. There’s also a small number of copies of the PDF that were just made available free on a website. If you can’t afford it, because… it was like a Kickstarter goal that got met. So that’s a thing too. But honestly, like, is one of the things that first calls out is this is explicitly for you to bring in other media. The overarching world is like a d20 shape and each facet of the D 20. is intended to be like a different setting. You know, it basically says just anytime you come across a challenge, you figure out how am I going to import this? What value is it worth and what die should I assign to it? I walked three people who had never played it before through character creation in 30 minutes. The only part that was hard was having my mage pick his spells. And of course, he went to Name of the Wind so, you know, literal magic anyway. It really is an amazing thing. If you are someone who does have this, like, man, I just I want to play this story from a 40 year old book that no one else has ever heard of and no one is possibly going to adapt and I can’t find anything like it. Try .Dungeon it’s really good. Okay, we will have a link to in the show notes. That sounds cool.

Randall 

I’m imagining somebody pulling out their biology textbooks, like, “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.” DM, what do?

Tyler 

Oh, man. That might be worse than adjudicating Wish.

Randall 

I don’t know what you want. This was supposed to happen. Alright, so I think we’ve each prepared something special for one another. And for you. And I think it’s time that we get to that, right?

Tyler 

Yeah, definitely. Okay, so so basically what we’re going to do here is we’re going to eat our own dog food. We’re going to try out our own advice. I see Random giggling and Randall not even responding. It’s a software development term. “Dogfooding”, quote, unquote. You eat your own dog food to make sure it’s not terrible.

Randall 

I have this new service that solves this problem that we’ve been facing do I built it to solve the problem for ourselves. You know, a great way to see what you do before you release it to production? Does it actually solve your problem?

Tyler 

Yeah. Yeah. dogfooding it’s a real thing. Lovely show notes, to dogfooding. Yes. Also to dog food, why not?

Random 

I’m imagining Google crawling through and saying “This is just the Wikipedia page for dog food. What happened?”

Tyler 

So we have each picked a, a piece of media to adapt to a tabletop RPG. And the fun part is, none of us have told the other two what they are. So we’re, we’re gonna do one at a time, I figure. We’ll go through one and then rotate. Any volunteers to go first who aren’t me? Alright, Randall.

Randall 

Yeah, raise my hand, I want to go first, to get it out of the way. This is a good strategy for anybody at home. Like. if you’re still going through school, just if you rip the band-aid off, like you set the bar. And if somebody else does great later, you won’t look like a complete idiot. I’ll be clear, we also didn’t set requirements for one another. I’m very excited about this, though. So it came up earlier. And I’ve actually been thinking about this for a while. I wanted to do Dark Souls or souls-like game, because there is nothing more frustrating than making it further and further into a game, figuring out the strategy that it takes, surviving by the skin of your teeth to get a little bit further, a little bit further, hoping you’re going to find a bonfire.

Tyler 

And then a skeleton kicks you off a cliff.

Randall 

Yeah. And then when you revive, you take three more steps, get hit once and you’re dead, and you have lost everything. That is frustrating, right? Like that’s, it’s fun. And I remember the first time that I beat Dark Souls 3, it was just one of these like, it’s over. It’s over. The kids came in and the kids were like, is it over? It’s over? It was really, I didn’t I didn’t even feel happy

Random 

 Daddy is free!

Randall 

It wasn’t like… I actually, I’ll tell you a little more than I should. So I played Dark Souls while I ran on a treadmill. So I was just suffering in every direction.

Random 

Wow, that is…

Tyler 

I’m gonna add it. I’m gonna add a sixth “Why?” to that.

Randall 

Cuz I needed to multitask, right?

Tyler 

Yeah,

Randall 

Running definitely takes a long time if you’re going to do anything worth doing. But anyway, so Dark Souls, Dark Souls are super exciting to me. And I thought that it would be a lot of fun for this assignment that we put together for each other. So I’m gonna make the argument, we could actually do this with 5e or with Pathfinder 2. And I think they would both have, yeah, they both have their merits for for how you go. So the actual Dark Souls thing, the picking a level is basically tied to difficulty. So the, the hardest difficulty, I forget what what the difficulty is called, but it’s essentially like a naked dude with like a shirt or shirt wrapped around the waist. And that’s it. That’s what you get. Go survive Dark Souls like that, then of course, you pick up equipment along the way. But, the magic users are slightly harder or slightly easier than that, but they’re in the harder end of the difficulty. And then when you get up to like the folks fighting, they’re, you know, they’re doing fine. They’re doing great.

Tyler 

Okay, so no caster supremacy in this game. I’m hearing that as a central central focus.

Randall 

Exactly. Yeah, it’s it’s the opposite. The supremacy is that you actually managed to beat it as a caster.

Tyler 

Okay.

Randall 

Yeah.

Tyler 

That explains why I couldn’t beat Dark Souls one because I went straight to the spellcasters.

Randall 

Yeah. And I’m saying this. This is, I actually haven’t spent a lot of time studying the game. This was my intuition from playing. Like, trying a couple different things. I think what I say is correct. If I’m wrong, message me @JackAmateur on Twitter, told me I’m an idiot, and we’ll talk about it. Okay, so here’s what I think we should do. One, we are going to lower HP to the point where the typical monsters that are being fought in an area can with a crit one-hit kill. And with no critical hit, two-hit kill.

Tyler 

Okay, so I… Alright, so I’m going to back us up just a little bit. And we’re going to follow our own advice. I’m going to start with “why?” What about Dark Souls catches your interest that you want to bring to the tabletop?

Randall 

I want to have the mechanics of earning experience by killing things. So we’re not… and, yeah, spoiler we won’t do milestone leveling, we will do experience for killing things leveling. Okay. I want to introduce what I’m going to call “graph search” where I’m at a node, I’m at a bonfire. I need to do a graph search to find a new bonfire to kind of expand my region of influence before I die.

Tyler 

Got it. Okay, so, so I’m hearing that there might be a hex crawl mechanic that we could bring in. So you want to kill monsters to advance, and you want there to be danger between points of safety?

Randall 

Yes, and… if I, I, yeah, the mechanic I literally want is the if I die and I die before I recover my experience, I lose that experience. So dying is normal. And, and compared to, you know, D&D 5e or PF2, we’re all going to be very comfortable dying constantly throughout a session. Got it.

Tyler 

Okay, so that that is in the dying and regaining experience is definitely hard to bring into a game like D&D or Pathfinder, because gaining experience and the constant linear upward progression of power is kind of part of those games. You need to pick, like, a satisfying level of power where you’re comfortable resetting to, which, Hey, check our previous episode about one shots. So you could say like, yeah, level five is going to be the base level for characters and you can advance from there. But if you die, you’ve reset to five or whaterver.

Randall 

So let me make something clear. So in actual Dark Souls, what happens is, if you take a level, you have the level. The trick is accumulating enough experience to take the level before you lose that experience by dying twice. Does that make sense?

Tyler 

Ah, okay. Yeah, it’s been a couple of years, forgive me.

Randall 

No, no, that’s okay. I think this is good. Because this is gonna make it make sense for folks at home, too, right? So if you can gain enough experience that it wouldn’t be enough to go to six, you then need to return to a point of safety. And then you can do a trick to make the next level.

Random 

I almost want to turn this into “gun game,” instead of trying to gain levels. Gun game is a concept from Counter Strike, where basically, as you kill people, you get money and then you use that money to buy a better gun, so that you can keep killing people. Rather than increasing your level, if we say great, your character is level five forever, all of the monsters that you’re going to fight are appropriate challenges to one/two-shot you at level five. And then you just, you know, run through all the different ones possible. And then basically, what you do is you go and you collect money as you win, and you use that money to just buy better and better gear. So your character is always just going to be the same level five character, and this is the thing, right? So as a Dark Souls character, you don’t really gain new capacities. I mean, I guess some there is some spellcasting. In, in some of the games, but…

Randall 

When you level you get to pick a stat to increase each time.

Random 

But that’s just numerical, I’m talking about like, you don’t gain a new ability, you know, you don’t suddenly get a new capacity.

Randall 

Yeah. I don’t pick up a spell slot, I don’t pick up a…

Random 

Exactly. And so this is where I think if you say great, I’m going to do this by just giving you money. And then having a shop where you can turn that money in for a +1 sword, a +2 sword, armor. Maybe you have like one or two carefully chosen magic items that aren’t just numerical bonuses, things that are like, I’m going to have a ring of fire resist, because that sort of thing does exist in Dark Souls last I checked.  Yep, absolutely.  You know, so something like that. And and then, because really, the the only answer to how you beat big bosses in Dark Souls is just “git gud.” There’s not, you know, I’m not going to go out and, ah, now I have Power Word Kill, and I’m going to go Power Word Kill the boss and laugh.

Randall 

Well, so there’s a little bit of a… I’m going to talk through this. And let’s come back. And let’s revisit the feedback that you’re giving. If you… you have to raise individual skills, and so you might say like my intelligence goes up. The reason that you’ll raise your intelligence is because a lot of features that you want to take advantage of are not available to you until you hit some minimal position in the stat.

Tyler 

Let’s see, so… so part of this gets into a problem adapting video games to multiplayer tabletop RPGs. So like Skyrim, Dark Souls, etc. The main character is in many of these games, every class. Like, you have every option available to you. So the need for distinct classes like Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Rogue, like, those go away because one character is doing all the things. In that sense, like, D&D wouldn’t be a perfect adaptation for Dark Souls because the level-based progression and the class-based capabilities don’t exactly match up with the dark souls, like, my intelligence increased, now I can cast fireball. Because if every, if every character in the party is like, yeah, we’re all gonna max our intelligence until we can fireball every encounter and then run back to the campfire. Like, that might not quite work.

Randall 

It’s it’s a bonfire good sir.

Tyler 

Oh, I’m sorry.

Randall 

No, I hear that. But that’s actually that’s I want to bring it to D&D 5e or PF2 for that matter. And this is how I suggest we do it. So keep your classes. Build a character the same way that you would build. But I want to modify the HP because I do you want to make it basically where like, yeah, you’re going to get your teeth kicked in every time. I want the leveling system in whichever ruleset you pick to stay the same. But I want to have this XP system that, like, when you kill monsters, you get… and this, I… towards the point Random you were making a moment ago of like, well, what if instead, it’s a gun game where you earn money, use money to buy better guns, and you get to keep the guns. But if you die, you lose. If you die twice, you lose the money. What I would say is let’s combine that. So you have XP, and this is literally souls-esque, right? I can use my souls to buy things, but I can also use my souls to, you know, plus one my attributes. Okay, so instead of… let’s let you level, let’s instead of the souls, like, you increase your attributes to unlock skills, let’s just straight if you pay for a level, you get to unlock the skills associated with that level. If you want to spend your income multi-classing, you certainly can, but you’re not going to hit your peak. And if instead, you think it’s more valuable to buy a ring of fire protection than it is to take a level at this particular point in the game, you’re gonna blow a lot of money and I sure hope you don’t get stuck because you you know, you don’t have the right skills to get past a particular thing you’re going after next.

Random 

That’s one of the other things that this brings up is any system like that, you’re going to have a real hard time with multiple players at the party. Because you know, if you have somebody who has died a bunch, and they’re just two, three levels behind in an area where things are two-shotting players who are on level, they’re just going to get one shot every time. And maybe somebody has fun with that, but that’s going to be rough.

Randall 

So actually, I think this would be super exciting. Like if you have a good group of people who want to cooperate together. Real quick, let’s talk about death. If you get a TPK, the whole party is returned to the most recent-bonfire that they checked in at. Okay? If one character dies, but not everybody, those players go on. But socially, they’re encouraged to return to the nearest bonfire to retrieve their dead friend. Now imagine the escort mission of anybody else can die, but we cannot let this one person die. Because if they do, they’re literally going to lose two levels worth of XP because we were idiots and we forgot to go back and actually take it. Like, I think that would be a lot of fun like this whole, like we have to keep them up, we have to keep them up no matter what, to the point where, Okay, estus flasks are a huge part of the game. I want to let you use an estus flask as a bonus action, which will restore most of your HP. And the way the game is leveled, you find these things to add the amount of HP that an estus flask gives you back and you also get more estus flasks over time. I think absolutely cooperate that, er, copy that. But it then becomes this thing of like I have been hit this turn. If I get hit again next turn I will die. So in lieu of doing anything else, like, anything that potentially would add additional damage, I have to take my estus flask or risk dyiing in the next moment.

Tyler 

I could see, like… you could just make the estus flask just use your hit dice. Like, that… That wouldn’t even change the mechanics of 5e all that much.

Randall 

100% Except for you’d be able to use them and argue you should be you have to be able to use them in combat. Yeah, that’s probably the only mechanical change right? If you had your hit dice.

Tyler 

And then that gives you the like the estus flask is limited in capacity and recharges when you hit a bonfire, so like your bonfire is your long rest which resets your hit dice. So yeah, just bonus action drink a hit die or maybe multiple hit die if that’s what you want it to be.

Randall 

I know, I love that I think that makes perfect sense to me. So yes, and recognize though that when you hit a bonfire just like in a Souls game all of the monsters you’ve been fighting come back.

Tyler 

Yeah that… so that specific part in a D&D game might get to be a pain. Like, in…

Randall 

That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought about that. Yeah, like it’s it is like, Okay, I just fought those two goblins and it took us 20 minutes to get through that combat. And now because I’ve used a bonfire, actually I have to go back through it again. I think so one would just be finding ways to speed up combat. I think one good answer would be let… also lower the HP of the monsters. So they’re brutal, they can do a ton of damage, but half the party can can take actions and and take these creatures out. And then you might have to play some games with initiative to just make sure that everybody’s getting in on the action, because the spirit of it would be that you’d be moving through this dungeon pretty quickly.

Tyler 

Right, so everything’s a glass cannon, basically.

Randall 

100% Yeah, that’s a that’s a perfect way of putting it. I want to bring one more thing to this that I want to honor from souls. And at that point, I’m gonna hand the keys over to then go to one of the other games. So I think everybody who’s ever played the game understands one of the critical mechanics is rolling.

Tyler 

Uh… Rolling.

Randall 

I want to give another action that can be taken as a bonus action. On your turn. Actually, we should talk about this as a bonus… Let’s address it.

Tyler 

But why not just dodge?

Randall 

I, well, I… let’s talk. I want to give you a roll action, whether it be bonus action, or I haven’t, I’ve been another offer, I want to see what you say to it. And what I want to do with this is imposed disadvantage on any attack and impose advantage on any saving throw on the character’s behalf if you roll at the end of your turn,

Tyler 

Okay, but then what is the cost of doing that?

Randall 

So good. This is we should talk through it. Bonus action, I think, is pretty obvious. And I think I want to, I want to table that for a second. The other thing I could imagine doing, which is more in the spirit of how it actually happens in Souls is half of your movement. So you can roll which will consume all of your movement. And you can only move half your movement. And maybe with certain classes, like, classes that don’t wear heavy armor, I might allow you to move your entire movement, but with a roll.

Random 

I immediately find that not punishing enough.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Random 

That, like, honestly, I mean… if you’re going to add the benefits of and also you get advantage on all of your saves. That should just be your action. And even if you compare that to souls, if you have one guy up front rolling around tanking the boss, while other people are DPS-ingg. That’s a thing that a multiplayer environment is going to allow. You can’t attack while you’re rolling.

Randall 

Okay, I’ve a counteroffer. What if it’s bonus action plus everything I said about movement. So you have to take a bonus action to use half your motion as a roll to get the advantage/disadvantage.

Tyler 

That’s, that’s still pretty light. Like you can build a Fighter without using your bonus action once in your entire career.

Randall 

But now it’s competing with your use of Estus Flask. So if you do get hit, are you going to heal? Or are you going to try to roll away?

Random 

But here’s the problem is if you if you keep it out of bonus action, and technically speaking, if you keep either of them at a bonus action, you can do both in a turn. You just don’t attack.

Randall 

That’s fair. But I mean, that’s that’s still that’s giving up something in the action economy. That is a really good point, though. I want to add one more piece of this. This is actually just occurred to me as we’re talking through it live. Do you think it makes sense for monsters to have the ability to attack either between every turn or, I don’t know, maybe every other turn something like this? We’re putting bet you know, band aids and duct tape on top of this thing to make it work.

Random 

I think that probably the only way to make it. Interestingly challenging for a group is to always have them fighting a group of at least equal numbers.

Randall 

Okay. Yeah, that’s not hard. That’s not hard to hit. Okay.

Tyler 

I mean, if you’re facing big solo monsters, that’s what legendary actions are for in 5e. Like it’s specifically so that the monsters are attacking after basically every player’s turn.

Random 

Yep.

Randall 

Okay. That makes sense. So maybe, again, like the duct tape would be if you do have single monsters that you want them to fight for whatever reason, give them legendary actions. Like, have a… We should maybe write up a few, a small fixed set of legendary actions that make sense to just add to creatures of type X, type Y? Yeah, I’ll buy in. Alright, so I’m gonna pose the question. We’ve laid it out. Would you two folks play this game?

Tyler 

I’d give it a try. I want to see where the, like, dodge roll mechanic. Like, that may take some refinement. But I mean, yeah, if you’re homebrewing anything, it’s always gonna take refinement. But yeah, I’d give it a try.

Random 

As someone who does not enjoy souls-likes, I probably would not. That sort of slog is not my jam. And I recently went through Jedi: Fallen Order, which is the most souls like thing I’ve ever played, and it’s probably still only like a three on a scale of one to Dark Souls. Even that was definitely frustrating at times.

Randall 

Okay. I feel like that response also feels like a positive vote for what I’m offering you. So I feel good about this actually.

Random 

Exactly!

Randall 

All right. Who wants to go next?

Randall 

And with that we will conclude the first part in our two-part series on adapting media to a tabletop game. The second part is waiting in you feed right now.

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