The Analog Gamer: Digital Conversions

halo1_narrowweb__300×3790.jpgSure you’ve been playing pen-and-paper RPGs for a while now, but the time has come to try and convert the unbelievers. How does one grab hold of a video game obsessed culture of gamers and tear them away from World of Warcraft or Mass Effect long enough to get them sitting down to play in your world? Simple, bring the game world they love to your table as well.

Unlike the 70′s and 80′s, the concept of introducing a role-playing game to friends and other potential players has become difficult. Often there are conversations among fans of D&D and other RPGs that the video game generation has stolen the future away.

How do hobbies that involve physical and social interaction compete with the global attraction of an MMO? How can players not feel cheated when the die rolls don’t make the enemy graphically explode and players have to imagine the special effects and particle physics instead of simply turning on their consoles and computers?

Simple. Tabletop games are party games. They rely on a group storytelling method and allow players to really and truly live out fantasy and adventure not easily modeled by finite scenarios in a video game.

3183.jpgThanks to the advent of the internet and the massive marketing and information machines in and around it, it has never been easier to find the resources necessary to bring our virtual play fields to life in a pen-and-paper game. In researching this article I contacted a number of game developers and publishers who were not surprisingly protective of their intellectual property and games but for the home grown campaign you don’t need to request official permission of a game developer to leverage the information about their game world. Making that fantasy world live is as simple as picking a system, researching the game, its characters, worlds, races, jobs and culture and then modeling it for your players.

Players drive any story driven RPG and its often easy to play upon that intimate connection you feel when taking on a role in a modern game. Some game types lend themselves naturally to conversions. Games with statistical systems are often easy to model or convert, be they your favorite fantasy game about stopping an extra-dimensional demonic invasion or the latest space opera where mankind and his allied races fight to preserve the galaxy from a looming threat. The key is to capture and play upon those elements in your game sessions. While it is nice to buy or find officially licensed conversions – like with the Diablo II conversion published by Wizards of the Coast or the official World of Warcraft RPG from White Wolf , many game settings do not have direct translations and you will have to do the legwork yourself.

starwars_article_rpgsagaed_pic1_en.jpgOne of the key elements of any game conversion is the core system you use to convert your setting. Some systems are tailored better to different genre or gameplay styles. An oriental martial-arts game might work best as an Exalted or Feng Shui conversion. The world with players trapped in a virtual simulation might work best using D20 Modern or Shadowrun. Whatever your setting there is likely a system that covers the genre – from Super Heroes to Space Opera. Selecting your system should also hinge on how familiar you as a player are with the system itself. Its hard to convert a game to D&D 3.5 if you’ve never played it and don’t understand its mechanics.

The process of conversion is not a simple one but it can be rewarding if you catch that fire in a bottle and recruit a new player into the hobby. There is nothing like seeing the look on a video gamer’s face when they realize during a traditional pen-and-paper RPG that they can do anything they want, they can decide to go far left and change the nature of the entire game through their actions and frankly that is exactly what makes playing with and against people more interesting. Players can memorize systems, maximize the numbers and even cheat to win a fight but in the end there is a spoiler they can;t anticipate, a challenge they won’t be able to master completely – the game master and the choices of their fellow players.

Getting your feet wet is simple, pick a game and the system and then try and find the hook to bring in your friends. Tell a good story and entertain them and they’ll come back for more guaranteed. There are also a number of gamer oriented websites (like for D20 games) where like minded gamers who may even be more familiar with the mechanics can help you out or point you toward other fan conversions. Chances are someone out there has written up their own Halo conversion or Final Fantasy game and even if it isn’t for the system you like or doesn’t capture the gameplay your story and players work with it might save you some effort and lead you in the right direction.

Here are a few games and conversions licensed by their creators as well as some sites to hunt up help in bringing your favorite video game world to the gaming table:

Diablo II – D&D 2nd Edition and 3.0 (Wizards of the Coast/TSR)
Starcraft – Alternity (Wizards of the Coast/TSR)
World of Warcraft RPG – D20 (Sword & Sorcery Studios)
Everquest RPG – D20 (Sword & Sorcery Studios)
Star Wars Saga Edition – D20 (SAGA) (Wizards of the Coast)
Warhammer 40K (Black Industries)

Systems suggested for converting your Games
Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition– Super Heroes(Green Ronin)
D20 Modern/Future – Modern Combat/Fantasy games/Modern Horror (Wizards of the Coast)
Star Wars Saga Edition – Space Opera/Sci-Fi (Wizards of the Coast)
True20 – Generic System based on d20 but simplified (Green Ronin)
GURPS – Generic System with good support for Fantasy/Horror/Supers/Sci-Fi (Steve Jackson Games)
Exalted – High Fantasy/Martial Arts (White Wolf)

Game World Resources for Conversions:
The Witcher
Mass Effect
Tabula Rasa
Grand Theft Auto
Guild Wars

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2 Comments on The Analog Gamer: Digital Conversions


On January 25, 2008 at 2:33 pm

GURPS is one of the best PPRPGS out there, been a player for YEARS! We’ve done everything from ancient times to a futuristic Halo themed world. The joy of GURPS, is that you can do ANYTHING you want, it is quite awesome.


On January 27, 2008 at 7:30 am

I agree with Kanadwen. GURPS is incredible! :D