How Tabletop Rules Are Adapted for Video Games

Whenever someone decides to create a video game based on this or that pen and paper RPG, they have to first figure out a way to make the game's rules work within the context of a video game, which can be quite tricky. And with no shortage of tabletop-inspired RPGs on the horizon, PC Gamer's editors have decided to round up a number of prominent developers and ask them about their approach when it comes to adapting tabletop rulesets.

The resulting feature includes quotes from Larian Studios' Swen Vincke, currently working on Baldur's Gate III, Owlcat Games' Alexander Mishulin who brought us Pathfinder: Kingmaker, Hardsuit Labs' Brian Mitsoda who's busy with Bloodlines 2 at the moment, and even Dungeons & Dragons' creative director Mike Mearls.

Here are a few sample paragraphs:

Videogames are different, by necessity. "When making a videogame, you as the player ask 'What can I do?'" says Vincke. Regarding Larian's work on Baldur's Gate 3, he says "Our goal has been to broaden as much as possible 'What can you do?' so you start feeling like you're playing [a tabletop] campaign."

"We've done a lot more than people expect, I think," he continues. Still, cuts have to be made. "We made a list of everything that's in the Player's Handbook, and we coded it green, orange, red. Green, meaning [we can use it as-written]. Orange, needs change. Red, impossible—or maybe not impossible, but we'd have to make a completely new game just to support this feature."

It's not just combat, either. It's easy to get hung up on the mechanics of spells, monster stats, and so on, but many times it's the between-the-lines bits that end up mattering most when it comes to capturing the feel of tabletop in a videogame. Alexander Mishulin, creative director at Owlcat Games, told me how much work went into Pathfinder: Kingmaker's rest system, for instance.

"Players at the table spend a lot of time camping—finding a nice place to rest, hunting, standing watch, discussing further plans," he says. "Usually CRPGs skip or reduce such activities to something like 'You pressed the Rest button.' We introduced camps where companions discuss current events, go hunting, camouflage the camp, or prepare food. When we put that into Kingmaker, we sensed some of that feeling we had at the table planning the camp."