Some of gaming’s earliest big hits were roleplaying games which were influenced to one degree or another off existing systems from the tabletop space. And while we’ve seen some video games turned into tabletop games in recent years, there’s still a wealth of settings out there which haven’t been given the opportunity to make the journey from the tabletop to the computer or console. These ten represent games with plenty of potential to be the next big thing if they get done right.
If you were pitching this one to a Hollywood film exec in an elevator, you might go with this: “Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Game of Thrones.” Set in a fantasy world with a mixture of Asian and European influences combined with grim-and-gritty sensibilities, magitech mecha which would be right at home in Escaflowne, and all winkingly tied to White Wolf’s original “World of Darkness” settings. Exalted puts players in the role of divinely chosen heroes struggling to save the world, or possibly kill it once and for all.
Ages ago, the gods created living weapons from human beings, gifting their champions a divine spark which granted tremendous power to overthrow the titanic ur-deities called Primordials who ruled Creation, ultimately creating a Golden Age. But the Primordials cursed the Exalted, inflicting madness and subtle decay of their powers. The Solar Exalted, serving as god-kings, grew dangerously insane and were overthrown by their Dragon-Blooded knights and their Sidereal viziers, their sparks imprisoned throughout a dark age which saw the Dragon-Blooded forming a new Empire led by the seemingly immortal Scarlet Empress. Now, with the Empress gone and the Dragon-Blooded weakening with every successive generation, the Solar Exalted are re-emerging, and the world stands on the edge of either total destruction or a glorious rebirth.
For Fans Of: Jade Empire, Dragon Age, Destiny
2. Delta Green
Mention “Lovecraft” and images of Cthulhu immediately pop to mind, along with mi-go, the Yith, and the Hounds of Tindalos being investigated by esoterically educated mystics, academics with tenure at Arkham University and probably posh British accents, and hard-boiled gumshoes who’d rather be doing a skip trace than deal with the Mythos.
Delta Green takes a different tack. Instead of simply being innocent bystanders who get caught up in the weirdness (and often get destroyed by it), players take on the role of government agents whose job is to investigate the weirdness, eliminate it by any means possible, and make sure that absolutely none of what they do is ever mentioned in the press. Oh, they’re still going to be destroyed by the weirdness, but at least they’ll have the benefit of a comrade who takes them out into the woods and shoots in them in the head. Games of Delta Green are not simply about horror, but also some truly agonizing moral choices. If you thought the “Bloody Baron” quests in The Witcher III: Wild Hunt were tough, imagine being faced with destroying a small town of folks who are too close to the projected emergence point of a cosmic horror, or letting the horror come all the way through before trying to nuke it from low orbit. There are no happy endings in Delta Green, only varying degrees of grim.
For Fans Of: The Witcher III, Until Dawn, Spec Ops: The Line
This was a side project, of sorts, for White Wolf. While elements of this game would come back up in their later Geist: The Sin-Eaters, Orpheus has a decidedly self-contained story and is completely cut off from any other World of Darkness or Storyteller setting.
Players take on the role of operatives for the Orpheus Group, a somewhat ill defined corporation who specialize in stretching out the veil between life and death, using a combination of yoga, designer drugs, and sometimes cryogenic suspension to separate the soul from the body. Once freed from physical form, operatives are sent to do everything from basic surveillance to dirty tricks to fulfill their clients’ wishes. Along the way, operatives learn about the “natural” ghosts which haunt the world, as well as sinister corporate cabals meddling with things they shouldn’t and a vengeful spirit who’s not like all the other spectres out there.
For Fans Of: Murdered: Soul Suspect, Vampyr
4. Fading Suns
Like all of these settings, there has not been an RPG video game based off the Fading Suns RPG. There was a strategy game with Emperor of The Fading Suns and a couple of games based off the miniatures spin-off Noble Armada. But the core material has never been properly adapted, which is a crying shame since the opportunities for open-world roaming would be incredible.
Far into the future, humanity has finally spread out among the stars, courtesy of jump gates built by a long extinct precursor race. Over the course of three thousand years, humanity has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, corporate holdings evolving to a grand “Second Republic” before falling into a dark age as the stars themselves began to literally fade out. This led to the founding of the Empire by Vladimir I, crowned by his own hand and assassinated barely a moment later by parties unknown. After years of civil war, a new Emperor sits on the throne, but problems still remain and much that was known is now lost. Barbarian hordes and highly advanced alien races loom beyond the Empire’s official borders. Political intrigues between the nobility, the guilds, and the Universal Church, and within all of those organizations, threaten to destabilize the fragile peace after decades of conflict. And as the stars continue to fade, the hopes of every intelligent species in the Galaxy dwindle further.
For Fans Of: Neverwinter Nights, Mass Effect, Knights of The Old Republic
5. Jovian Chronicles
Dream Pod 9 gave us the Heavy Gear setting, which has had some pretty good adaptations done from it. However, another setting of theirs, Jovian Chronicles, has the potential for the sort of high energy adventure and broad exploration that gamers have been missing for a while. Its anime-inspired tone (the Gundam series was clearly a major influence) dovetails nicely with the sorts of deep intrigues and “hard” sci-fi exemplified by The Expanse.
In 2210, the Solar System stands on the brink of war. Incredible progress such as terraforming Venus and settlements on the moons of Jupiter have been undone by bloody wars on Earth and Byzantine scheming by various governments across the system. Orbital colonies and sanctuaries carved out of the Asteroid Belt provide nothing but continuing tensions. Mars sits divided by two different powers, each side being covertly supported by other planetary governments in a deadly game of chess. Exo-armors, vehicles that blur the line between personal spacecraft and military armor unit, patrol the vacuum of low orbit and across the various surfaces of the worlds claimed by humanity, piloted by patriots and opportunists who pray they’re not going to be firing the shot that starts an interplanetary war.
For Fans Of: Zone Of The Enders, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division
6. Sagas & Six Guns
Fun Fact: Leif Erikson found North America almost five centuries before Columbus, in what is today Newfoundland in Canada. The mind can only boggle at how history might have been different had the Vikings stayed there longer. Since we’ll never know for sure, we have Sagas & Six Guns to explore the possibilities.
Set in the fictional world of Western Midgard, players experience a mashup of the Old Norse and the Old West, where mead halls replace saloons, tricksters replace snake oil salesmen, and the cattle rustlers could be humans or trolls. You might be a pistolero, a gunmaiden (the more ballistic sister to the shieldmaiden), a runecasting seer, or maybe even an exiled Valkyrie from Asgard. You carry a repeating rifle for distance work and a sturdy axe for when the ammunition runs out. And as you travel, your name becomes known to towns and cities far and wide, your personal saga built on heroic deeds (or potentially villainous ones), and every day is a change to grow the saga a little more, or end it abruptly with a bullet.
For Fans Of: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Red Dead Redemption II
Up until fairly recently, it was hard to get a good Shadowrun game on the PC. While that’s been changed by the work done by Harebrained Schemes, it also gives us some hope that similar good work can be done with the “prequel” setting, Earthdawn. Just as Shadowrun threw the cyberpunk genre a curveball (much to William Gibson’s disappointment and chagrin) mixing high tech and heroic fantasy elements, Earthdawn takes the typical Tolkien-esque fantasy tropes and puts a fresh spin on them, particularly with a non-Vancian magic system and the idea of magic items getting more powerful the more you learn their history.
Long before Atlantis fell into the oceans, there was an age now forgotten by Man, a time where unspeakable Horrors roamed the land as the power of magic grew beyond the control of mortal races. But one realm, the Theran Empire, found a way to avoid the apocalyptic destruction. By employing powerful wards, underground sanctuaries known as kaers were built, and many (though not all) survived during the years of the Awakening. Now, as magic begins to recede like an ebbing tide, the kaers are opening, and the residents aren’t particularly interested in rebuilding the Theran Empire. It’s a time of rediscovery, of new beginnings, and of grand adventure. Magic may be lesser now, but it’s still a force to be reckoned with, and a Horror is all too easily summoned by a carelessly cast spell. Today’s simple farmer could become the next great king, and unremarkable old swords could ultimately be reawakened to the lost glory of ages past as their history is uncovered.
For Fans Of: Shadowrun, Dragon Age, the Fallout series
8. Legend of The Five Rings
What started as a competitor to Magic: The Gathering has certainly evolved into a compelling fantasy setting in its own right. Legend of The Five Rings blends the court intrigues of The Tale of Genji, the military maneuvers of The Tale of the Heike, and the supernatural elements of Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan into the fictional realm of Rokugan. There are a number of elements which are familiar enough to attract fans of heroic fantasy, samurai movies, and supernatural anime, all of which could be used to make a sprawling epic of a CRPG.
Rokugan is a land where loyalties between friends, family, and clan are tested at every turn and the Emerald Empire is threatened by the demonic hordes of The Shadowlands. Some clans, like the Crab Clan, man the massive fortification known as the Carpenter Wall and fight directly against the demons. Others like the Scorpion and Crane Clans square off in Byzantine games of intrigue, while the Dragon and Phoenix Clans find themselves embroiled in full scale war even as they seek enlightenment. It is a land where honor is everything, and disgrace is worse than even demonic possession.
For Fans Of: Jade Empire, Ghost of Tsushima
There’s a dearth of games set in the Old West. We had to wait eight whole years for Red Dead Redemption II. But if there was one element of having to replay the first Red Dead Redemption, it was the “Undead Nightmare” add-on. If you can picture “Undead Nightmare” stretched out into a full blown game, you can very easily imagine Deadlands.
Set in an alternate “Weird West,” Deadlands puts players in a post-Civil War America where things turned out very differently. The Battle of Gettysburg was interrupted on July 4th by a titanic explosion and armies of the undead erupting from the shallow graves they’d been buried in only a day or two earlier. By 1876, everything looks like it’s quite literally going to Hell. Strange monsters roam the Great Plains and stalk the forests of the Rockies and the Appalachians. California has been shattered by a massive earthquake, with Chinese pirates controlling the island city of Shan Fan and a charismatic preacher miraculously feeding multitudes in the City of Lost Angels. A strange new substance called ghost rock is creating new technologies of terrifying capabilities while sorceries thought to be a myth have suddenly reappeared, both tempting men with powers they don’t understand. The Union and the Confederacy aren’t actively shooting at each other, but both are looking to end the war permanently, and not in any diplomatic context. And across the land, as mindless zombies and “Harrowed” revenants rise up, an overwhelming sense of dread is building, a sense that a terrible reckoning is at hand.
For Fans Of: Hard West, the Red Dead Redemption series
10. In Nomine
Look, we can all agree that the movie Constantine wasn’t exactly a smashing cinematic tour de force. A decent popcorn flick, to be sure, but still of the “Screw you, comic books! This is Hollywood!” school of adaptation. But it did toy with an interesting idea, the notion of angels and demons influencing everyday affairs in a subtle “Great Game” for the collective soul of humanity. What would it be like to be in the trenches of that sort of conflict? In Nomine, released by Steve Jackson Games, offers a potential look.
Translated from French RPG In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas, In Nomine puts players in the role of an angel or demon serving an Archangel or a Demon Prince, working to maintain or disrupt “The Symphony,” the essence of all creation. Or perhaps they’re working together, trying to keep the Symphony from falling apart. The setting allows for potentially interesting stories ranging from Good Omens-style “buddy cop” humor to more grim and grimy tales in line with The Prophecy. The central mechanic which serves to add tension to the characters and their adventures is the notion of “dissonance.” When an angel or demon is acting as their natures demand, or are acting in service to the Word that their particular patron is associated with, their abilities are functional, perhaps even enhanced if they can get everything to resonate perfectly. Acting against their natures and their patron’s Word causes dissonance, inhibiting or even nullifying their abilities. And if an angel ultimately falls? Or a demon finds redemption? What then?
For Fans Of: the Darksiders series, The Witcher III