Three computer RPGs every tabletop RPG fan should play

In the first post on this blog I actually said that I won’t be writing about computer games here. Today I want to make an exception from this rule. I have been an avid fan of computer roleplaying games long before I actually knew that tabletop RPGs existed. Most computer roleplaying games actually are not worthy of being called “roleplaying” games. Often the only thing they share with their tabletop counterparts are the underlying rules systems and several tropes.

But there are a couple of computer roleplaying games that actually allow you to roleplay to a degree. Others are great examples of world-building which could be an inspiration to GMs who love to create their own settings. There are three of these games I want to write about today.

Fallout
Fallout One of my all-time favorite computer games is Fallout. I am actually talking about the 1997 Interplay game here. The original Fallout takes place in a post-apocalyptic Southern California. It’s the year 2161 and family of the hero has survived the apocalypse in a huge underground vault. After a vital piece of equipment breaks down, the hero is sent out to retrieve a replacement from another vault. Of course this is only the first step in an epic adventure. What set Fallout apart from other games of the time was that you really could play the game like you wanted. You could focus on fighting your way through any opposition, outsmart or sneak around your enemies. In my first playthrough I played a charismatic and intelligent character that solved almost any problem with talking instead of shooting. I had a blast. The writing was solid, it had great humor, and a gripping, pretty non-linear story. Your decisions actually mattered, unlike in other games where different dialog options always lead to the same outcome.
In my humble opinion the Fallout universe is also deep enough to be used as a basis for a tabletop campaign. The sequels Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are still great games, but the first Fallout is definitely the best title in the series.
Fallout was actually meant to employ the GURPS rules, but Steve Jackson Games was unhappy about the game’s mature content, so the developers had to come up with a completely original system.

Mass Effect
Mass Effect If you’re even remotely interested in computer and video games you must’ve heard about the Mass Effect series. The Mass Effect trilogy spawned several spin-off games for mobile devices, comics, book, an animated movie and there are even plans for a feature film. Mass Effect is a science fiction action RPG developed by Bioware which tells the story of Commander Shepard who is fighting against the mysterious Reapers who wipe out the major civilizations of the Milky Way in a regular cycle. When I first played Mass Effect I was surprised how deep the background setting was. The Mass Effect feels much larger than the game itself. In a way it reminded me of the Star Wars galaxy. Even after watching Episode 4 I felt that I have glanced into a much larger universe. I felt the same with Mass Effect 1.
The gameplay varied slightly during the series. Mass Effect 2 and 3 feel much more like first person shooters than the first game in the series. But like in the aforementioned Fallout, combat is not everything that matters in Mass Effect. The decisions you made actually mattered and sometimes things you’ve done in the first episode of the trilogy affected events in the last episode. The conclusion of the series was a letdown to many gamers, but overall Mass Effect is probably the computer game that had the biggest emotional effect on me. I have to admit that there’s one scene in Mass Effect 3 that brought tears into my eyes. This is something no other computer game has achieved so far.
Why do I recommend Mass Effect to tabletop RPG fans? Mostly because of the setting. Mass Effect is a incredibly deep (for a computer game) and well designed space opera that works great at the tabletop. I’ve successfully run a Mass Effect game in the past using Starblazer Adventures and there are many other conversions available on the internet.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim
Skyrim Skyrim is the lastest game in the Elder Scrolls series. Like it’s predecessors it’s set in the continent of Tamriel, which has been ruled by the Empire for millenia. But things started to go downhill after the last member of the Septim bloodline sacrificed himself. The game is set into the northern-most province of the Empire called Skyrim. The game starts with your player character being sentenced to death but a sudden dragon attack gives you the chance to escape and eventually start a new life. After a short and pretty linear tutorial during which you can flee from the dragon attack, a whole world opens up for you to explore. Skyrim is a huge and beautiful sandbox for you to play in. There are countless dungeons, several large cities, small towns, lone farm houses, hundreds of quests, a crafting system, houses for you to buy and decorate… The options are almost endless. The main story of Skyrim is actually not that great, but that’s probably not why anyone plays an Elder Scrolls game. The Elder Scrolls series always provided a great sandbox experience. Other parts of the series probably offered you a deeper gameplay – in older titles you could even create custom spells and own businesses – but Skyrim is definitely the most accessible game of the series. By the way, Ken Rolston, who was lead designer for two games of the series, Oblivion and Morrowind, was a pen & paper RPG designer before he entered the video game industry. I think it’s no surprise that the rules system used in the earlier games of the series reminds me a lot of RuneQuest.

Honorable Mentions
If you are looking for other great games aside from the ones mentioned above, check out the other episodes of the Fallout, Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls series. If you don’t mind the dated graphics and gameplay you also should give the Ultima series a try. It’s one of the longest running computer game series and loved by many, even though the last two installments of the series were pretty bad. If you’re looking for a truly memorable story check out Planescape Torment. In my opinion it’s definitely the best AD&D-based computer RPG out there. Troika Games’ Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magicks Obscura is steampunk fantasy game that plays a lot like the original Fallout. It has some quirks and is still somewhat buggy, but both the story and the world are worth your time. It’s one of those settings I would to use at the tabletop one day. Last but not least, I have a treat for fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series: Cyanide’s Game of Thrones is an underrated gem. The graphics are somewhat outdated and the animations and voice acting are not the best out there, but the plot is truly awesome.

What are your thoughts on computer roleplaying games? Do you like them or hate them? Have you ever used elements from video games in your pen & paper roleplaying games? Please share your thoughts below!

12 thoughts on “Three computer RPGs every tabletop RPG fan should play”

  1. I absolutely agree about Fallout (though, I also greatly liked Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel; though, I encountered a bug that kept me from finishing a key mission, so I never finished the game). (I haven’t played the newer FPS based titles)

    I’d really love to see those modernized and re-done… not as FPS’s, like the latest installments, but as turn based RPG’s like the originals. That was probably my favorite C-RPG franchise of all time.

    I even ran a d20 game based on some aspects of it, well before there were any sci-fi variants of d20 (half way through, I was able to borrow a few elements of FFG’s Dragonspace (?) game, for tech items, but this was well before Darwin’s World, etc.). If my current girlfriend was into post-apoc games, I’d probably try to do a spin-off of that game, using FATE.

    1. Speaking of d20 and Fallout, the RPG “Exodus” was originally going to be the Fallout RPG. At the last minute, they encountered legal issues with using that title, so they had to change the name. So, basically, if you want a d20 based table-top Fallout game, that’s what Exodus is (with the intellectual property filed off).

  2. Nethack has had a impact on how I DM classical D&D. It’s a perfect snapshot of 70’s D&D.

    I’ve played the crap out of ToaSK, the Encounter Critical Zork-clone.

    I also have to recommend Eye of the Beholder on the SNES; it’s 2e handling a megadungeon and it expects you to map it out yourself. No sissies allowed. And Shadows Over Mystara if you want to see the Basic Set / Labyrinth Lord in action!

  3. Ultima IV — Quest of the Avatar.

    You win the game by being the best example of 8 different Virtues, like honestly, sacrifice, justice, etc…

    No final boss, you beat the game by just being a good person.

    If only to see how a genre that has killing everything as its goal can have alternate win conditions.

  4. Great post! I’ll have to give Fallout a spin soon – I picked it up on GOG.com a year or so back but haven’t played it.

    100% agree with the mass effect series. I’m playing through Mass Effect 2 right now and its easily one of the best game experiences I’ve had.

    Ultima VII is the best of the Ultima series and probably the closest to a ‘roleplaying’ expereince.

    I imagine you’ve been exposed to/played Baldur’s gate series? The second is fantastic.

    Also Dragon Age:Origins is a great game too. You really can “roleplay’ a wide variety of characters through dialogue and choices.

    My problem with the games I listed above (BG and DA:O) is that the “tabletop’ expereince is lost to me the more I have to control and manage an entire party. I like the illusion that other NPCs and party members act on their own accord so I can focus on my own character.

    That’s one reason I think the best CRPG in my book (others may disagree on this one) is Neverwinter Nights 1. The original campaign is fairly lackluster and the expansion campaigns are better but still nothing to get excited about. Its the custom content that is absolutely amazing. The original NWN was shipped with an adventure editor. Do yourself a favor and go to http://nwvault.ign.com/ . There are literally thousands of user created adventures taking place in the D&D world and worlds of the designers creation. They have a whole slew of old school D&D module conversions (Dwellers of the Forbidden City! Tomb of Horrors!). There is such a vast variety of module types from hack and slash to full on adventure/heavy roleplaying modules.

    I’ve only played through one full module which was a Dance with Rogues. Definitely ‘R’ rated but an amazing module. I basically played about 3 hours before even fighting anyone but was totally engrossed making really difficulty questions. I don’t think I’ve been so fascinated/immersed in a gameworld before. Definitely the closest experience to playing a pen & paper rpg style game on the computer.

    Its also possible to play with a GM. I haven’t done this yet but I’m excited to try it sometime. Not sure how it works but am excited to try.

    My 2nd favorite RPG of all time is Quest for Glory 1 + 2. Fantastic game. google it if you don’t know them.

    I’m interested to see how Project Eternity turns out as well.

  5. Lots of good games already mentioned. I want to add Vampire:Bloodlines to the mix. It is one of my favorite RPG games. It manages to portrait the same world from the perspective of the different clans very well. Also a great example of world building in a very restricted area. Especially playing as a Malkavian is a truly memorable experience, but only after you played through it with one of the other, more “normal” clans first for greater impact.

  6. Hi Stargazer,

    Do you know, that there is a pretty neat Pen-and-Paper RPG-Version of Fallout for free download?

    Here is the link: http://www.paforge.com/fallout.html

    I remember playing that (or its predecessor) like ten years ago and we had a lot of fun. Don’t remember if that was due to the GM or the system, though.

    Check it out!

    Johannes

    1. Thanks for reminding me of Jason Mical’s game. I actually created a pretty fancy character sheet for it back in the day. If I find it again, I’ll upload it here.

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