Dark Souls tabletop RPG

My interest in the Dark Souls video game franchise is well documented on this blog — I once even was interviewed for a leading Dutch newspaper about it. So of course I have an interest in replicating that kind of feel in a tabletop RPG. When I wrote an RPG in 24 hours, I produced Miasma, a Japanese-themed take on the concept of undead traveling through the ruins of a corrupted capital in order to fulfill their destiny.
For Miasma, my design hinged on adversaries telegraphing their attacks, and tactical grid movement. The system was diceless — just like in the videogame, not luck but planning and commitment would be the main deciding factors in a fight. Just like there is very little luck involved in the videogame: if there was, then it would be impossible to do consistent hitless runs. It works in theory, but it is slow and cumbersome.

There are more games with the express goal to emulate the video game. Jason Tocci has created a few, based on various (rules-lite) RPG systems. I GM’ed two sessions of Exhumed, but that fell flat because of a lack of narrative thrust on my part and the underlying system. Most RPG systems regard monsters as bags of hitpoints, and it becomes a series of dice rolls to see who is victorious — and that’s just not what Dark Souls feels like to me.

Now, there is an official Dark Souls tabletop RPG in preparation — whether it is an original work or a translation of the Japanese official tabletop RPG is unknown at this time. But the discussion came up on Twitter about what systems or games would be suited to run a ‘Souls-like’ game in. And someone pointed out a setting book for Dungeon World, which is a D&D-like fantasy game using the Apocalypse World Engine. Normally Dungeon World would emulate dungeon-crawling high fantasy games, but of course you can change some of the Moves and add other details to the character options to change its tone completely. Which they did.
The Cold Ruins of Lastlife is one of three ‘Chaos Worlds’, which are settings for Dungeon World to emulate certain types of media. I bought the PDF because I was curious, and all I can say is that it works really well. Perhaps not quite in the way I want a soulslike RPG to be, but there are some really inspired ideas in there.
Dungeon World does not have a combat system as such. Yes, everyone has hitpoints, but everything is left to fictional positioning. There are no rules for turn orders, and characters can try to do any crazy stunt they want to. And while it may be very obvious to everyone else, I had a bit of an epiphany: you don’t need to carefully model all the ways that monsters attack in Dark Souls and make a system out of that — you can just leave it to the GM. Make a list of common attack patterns and trust the GM to come up with an exciting fight. Add a few Moves for the characters to use to give them an edge under certain circumstances, and off you go.

Not like I needed inspiration for another RPG writing project, but it’s an interesting thought.

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