Adventure Rules has always been about two main things: video games and tabletops games. With the current schedule, I talk about the former on Fridays and the latter on Tuesdays. So I cover both subjects relatively equally here. Today, I thought it would be fun to talk about both of them TOGETHER – because honestly, that’s where my mind is at right now.
I’m not currently involved in any tabletop campaigns; I have two friends who are each trying to get a group together, but neither game is gonna get going next week or anything. Combine that with the fact that Breath of the Wild has pretty much consumed every second of my free time, and my mind has been exclusively tied up in the video game realm. So when Tuesday started to approach, I found myself wondering what the heck I was gonna talk about. Then, good ole Zelda gave me some inspiration.
You see, Breath of the Wild is an open-world game chock full of content to explore. And that includes vastly different landscapes where members of different races live. While central Hyrule is predominantly populated by Hylians, you can run into one or two members of other races as well: Gerudo, Sheikah, Gorons, Zora, and Rito all wander the wider world for one reason or another. Head into the extremes where one race is particularly suited to the environment, and you encounter a whole ‘nother culture.
The different races in Zelda and the abilities that are unique to them got me thinking: how awesome would it be to play a tabletop Zelda game? Often we see these races in action and we never really get to experience them. Sure, in Majora’s Mask you can shapeshift into one or two, and in Hyrule Warriors you can play as specific characters like Princess Ruto or Darunia. But there’s always been a part of me that’s loved the lore of Hyrule to the point of wanting to create my own characters in this universe.
So what’s stopping me?
Tabletops games are the perfect environment for telling your own stories, and there’s no set rule saying you can’t set your games in an established world. In fact, some tabletop games are specifically dedicated to playing your own characters in an established world – Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings both come to mind. But for those settings that don’t already have their own tabletop, all it takes is a little creativity and you can tell your own stories in the world of your favorite video games!
“Universal” engines are a great starting point for this sort of thing. Games like GURPS or FATE have a huge level of freedom that allows you to create whatever kind of character and world you can envision. FATE in particular has a rules-light yet deep system where your Aspects (character traits) can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the circumstances, making it very free-form and easy to interpret any universe. Plus it’s pay what you want, so you can try out the full rules or the simpler Accelerated rules for free and then contribute financially based on how much you love the game! One of my personal favorite tabletop games, Dread, would be really awesome for this. Granted, Dread is a horror game, but there are plenty of horror video games begging to have scary stories told. I’ve wanted for a long time to run a Dread game inspired by the Zero Escape series.
You should also keep your eyes open for fan-games or indie games that bring your favorite game world to life. Pokemon in particular has a pretty extensive fan created game called Pokemon Tabletop United. This game is absolutely massive (I’m more experienced with its precursor, Pokemon Tabletop Adventures) but it has a ton of content for anyone who wants to experience the tabletop RPG world and Pokemon all at the same time. There’s also a pretty well-established Final Fantasy hack of Pathfinder complete with summons, magic points, and the classic Final Fantasy classes that many of us know and love.
Finally, if there’s a game you really want to emulate in tabletop format but there’s nothing out there for it, consider using some basic homebrew rules to craft an existing game to your needs! After all, many tabletop games often have the perfect setting for an existing video game universe – it’ll just need tweaked a little. For example, Mutants and Masterminds would be a great engine for running something like inFamous. You’d just need to establish some house rules that reinforce the role of Conduits in the game world and conform every character with powers to that ideal. The Legend of Zelda and Dungeon World are a really great fit, and the only significant change you’d have to make would be making new racial moves for the classes to reflect the abilities of Gorons, Zora, and Gerudo instead of Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. Dungeon World’s system is narrative-driven and therefore allows for boss fights that are focused more on finding the right weak point rather than just hack-and-slashing to victory. This fits perfectly with the more strategic, almost puzzle-like approach to Zelda bosses.
While right now I’m in full-force Zelda mode, there’s always been one game that I really wanted to figure out how to translate into tabletop mode – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. This game is my favorite game of all time (depending on when you ask me – Ocarina of Time/Majora’s Mask are close seconds) and naturally I would love to play around in its world. I love the lore of this game, the unique locations it offers, and the idea of a tabletop that lets me tell stories about Rogueport fills me with excitement.
I’ve never quite been able to find the perfect fit for a Paper Mario tabletop experience, though. The beauty of the early Paper Mario games were their simple but engaging RPG mechanics. The controls are easy to pick up and hard to master, and the game would kind of miss the mark if it ever got to the point where it took itself too seriously. Additionally, the Paper Mario universe has WAY more races than any typical tabletop game; between Goombas, Koopas, Shy Guys, Yoshis, Toads, Piantas, Boos, Bandits, Lakitus, Squeaks, Clefts, Bob-Ombs – you get the idea. And with a bunch of those having different sub-species with their own unique abilities, there’s a whole lot to choose from. Finally, the strategy of Paper Mario combat has a lot to do with whether or not an attack can be effective based on battlefield placement, equipment/physiology, number of strikes, and success at the action commands. A lot of these ideas don’t necessarily translate cleanly into a tabletop, particularly when it comes to balanced combat. And we won’t even talk about out-of-combat elements such as traps or interactions, which would basically require inventing a system from the ground up.
My tabletop obsession as of late has been the Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) family of games. These games all borrow mechanics from the narrative-driven game Apocalypse World, which has a simple system that can easily be hacked and created into a whole new game. I’ve thought a bit about whether or not the concept of Paper Mario could gel with the idea of PbtA, and I do think there’s some potential there. Specifically, when it comes to the balance between Jump and Hammer tactics, the former could be similar to AW’s Sucker Someone where you basically get a free hit while the latter would function like Single Combat, where both characters take damage. Races with good jumping like Goombas would want to reach a higher position in order to get the drop on enemies, while tougher Koopas would use their shells to bully enemies on the same level and excel in Single Combat scenarios. Each classic Mushroom Kingdom race could be its own playbook, so the game could start out with the big ones like Toads, Goombas, and Koopas, and expand later to include more off-the-wall races later on. As a Powered by the Apocalypse game, conceivably any action could be covered by only a few core moves, meaning not too much thought would have to be placed on mechanics that don’t exist in Paper Mario (like persuasion checks) or those that work differently in video games versus tabletop games (like environmental hazards).
So what about you, adventurers? Are there any video games whose lore and characters inspire you that you’d love to see as a tabletop? If you’ve tried that angle before, how did it work out for you? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed today’s post be sure to come back next Tuesday for more tabletop shenanigans here on Adventure Rules!
WEEKLY (ISH) UPDATE
FRIDAY’S POST: A new Breath of the Wild guide, perhaps on recipes or gear
NEXT TUESDAY’S POST: Probably about how much I wish I had a tabletop campaign going
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Survival Guide
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Adventure Rules Reviews: City of Mist Starter Set
Fantastic post, Ian! And very apropos, as well. Literally the other night, after we had played a few rounds of Boss Monster, I was telling my husband that I’d really love to create our own table-top game, modeled after a traditional side-scrolling platformmer like SMB. And then I opened my laptop tonight and saw your blog post, which fits so perfectly!
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That’d be an interesting game for sure! I imagine it would be a challenge to capture the essence of platforming in a tabletop, but also really rewarding once you figure it out. And I see how moving through the Boss Monster dungeon would be a good starting point for the concept!
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It would definitely be a challenge – I agree. I am still thinking through how it would look. But yes, the whole notion of Boss Monster is what inspired the thought! 🙂