All art here is by Kevin Massey, please check out Kevin's awesome work here: ArtStation

From Video Game to Tabletop RPG

It took a Dragon's Age

Video Games have had a huge influence on my life, and the lives of many of you who stick around Games Xtreme. They share a special place in my heart, especially for the form of escapism they provide away from the 9-5 and the rest of the mundane world. Through the medium of games we can touch stars we never thought we'd see, fight monsters in a dozen different worlds, and strategize our way to becoming the next Emperor of the Planet.

There's another form of escapism I've been involved with though, even since I was 10, ever since I was given the D&D Basic Red Box by my parents all the way back over 40 years ago. I've been involved in the RPG hobby for that long, and as some of you might know (or not), I've played a lot of RPGS (and run them) in my time.

In 2000 I started working in the industry as a writer, and I've been doing it ever since.

I thought it was about high time I did a small series of articles for Games Xtreme that look at the influence video games have had on tabletop RPGs, and list (with a mini-review of sorts) the video games which have made the jump to the table.

For the first one, I reckoned it was a good idea to look at a video game which I loved growing up and a fast-paced RPG which I picked up last year at the UK Games Expo.

The game I'm talking about is Elite, or rather Elite: Dangerous which has an officially licensed RPG by Spidermind Games.

The Dark Wheel

This is what I always think of when anyone mentions Elite, the novella that came with the box version of Elite way way back. The Dark Wheel was a novella that I always loved and a story which I read repeatedly when I was growing up.

It put me on the road to where I am now.

When Elite: Dangerous came out, one of the first things I thought was that it'd be pretty ace to have a tabletop RPG of Elite at last. Enter Spidermind, and the Elite Dangerous RPG which had a bit of a troubled launch which I won't go into here, since that's not the purpose of this article.

I want to talk instead about the jump that EDRPG made from video game to the tabletop, and what makes it pretty special.

First of all, there are some pros and cons to a tabletop game like this. It'll never (out of the gate) have every single bit of tech, feature, or design that's in the video game since that'd likely push the page count of the book beyond what is feasibly possible for a core rulebook.

Also, you're going to always appeal more to the fanbase of Elite Dangerous who also happen to be roleplayers. Players are going to have a better time if they've played or know about the game it's based on.

That said, what you really have here is a simple and fun RPG system which is very easy to get into and run. It's really good for a smaller group, since my group I tested it with consisted of two players, it was really cool. They were able to test out the various aspects of the game, check out the slick progression system and really fell in love with the idea of 'Between Adventure' mechanics which allowed their characters to roll on a jobs table between missions.

I can also see that the game's scalable, so you can run it for bigger groups. One of my RPG peers does that and she has a blast with her six players all romping around space and getting into shootouts and dogfights.

The space combat is fun and pretty unique too, I'll touch on that a bit later.

From Game to Book

Spidermind has done a great job with this book. It has a slick design, has a really nice layout and some great art. There's a mix of digital, traditional, and video game screenshots throughout the book. I really loved the little ribbon bookmark too, not as though it has much to do with the video game, but hey, it's a nice touch!

So what do you play?

You play a human, there's no alien PCs in Elite Dangerous.

When you set out to make a character using the simple and effective rules, everyone gets to be a pilot and has a set package of core skills, to this you add 4 backgrounds - these determine your space badass' skills since it doesn't use a traditional class based, attribute based design like many other tabletop games go for.

You'll get to earn Karma Points (these recharge between your space adventures) and these power your Karma Abilities (you get 3 of these to choose from).

Karma Abilites are akin to special powers, or feats.

On the last step of chargen you get to choose one of the 8 starter vessels in the core.

There are nuances to the chargen of course, you can also roll randomly to assign backgrounds and make a totally random space heroine, or dastardly assassin if you so choose.


To go along with the game's simple and fun design ethos, Spidermind opted for a D10 + Skill Bonus here, which is quick, and an elegant way to resolve skill tests. You have margins of success and failure to add some granularity to the roll, and if you equal or beat the difficulty score of the task you succeed.

A 1 is always an auto-fail, though you can always rule things don't go as planned rather than failing a player's test outright. A roll of 10 is always a success, and again you can embellish this if you want and make it more outstanding.

Elite Dangerous is one of those settings where you're not dealing with alien mind powers (psionics) or and kind of magic (technomagic or otherwise).

Kitting out your Space Badass

You need gear and the core book has you covered, there's a lot of it, and there's various rarities too. The game simulates the idea of the Engineers from the video game too, so you can get upgrades and mods to the weapons... be warned though, these things can break if you push them too far using this system.

Fighting Stuff

No matter how you try and avoid it, you're going to get into fights in Elite Dangerous. There are three kinds of combat too. Personal, Space, and Vehicle based.

Personal: Straightforward. Roll Initiative and take your turns as normal. You get 1 action and 1 move per turn. The book does a good job at explaining this, but it really is as simple as that. Out of vehicle based combat and space combat, I think the space combat is the better of the two and it's really fun and highly cinematic. You can perform different actions which boil down to either making a piloting check, or driving check. You then fire your weapons.


Spaceship combat is where it shines though, and it's very akin to the video game in that regard, especially the console version. You can perform various manoeuvres which will give you bonuses for that round. There's even a dogfight action which boils down to making rolls, whoever wins gets to unleash their weapons on the loser.

It's all very fun, and brings to mind dogfights from WWII or Star Wars.

Good stuff.

Cobra Mk III

Hell yes, it's there, of course it's there. It wouldn't be Elite without the beloved Mk III and many of the other ships found in the video game. The spaceship section of the core rules is nicely done and the system to buy and mod ships works like it does in the video game. Your powerplant will determine what you can essentially bolt onto your ship, and how much power it can handle. The system is simple enough to get to grips with, and with mods and nuances there's enough there to keep you going.

Again, don't think you're going to get super crunchy mechanics with this.

For the GM (Games Master)

There's a solid GM section in the core book. It has rules for making your own random star systems, as well as rules for creating random missions for the players to enjoy. Think of these akin to the mission system in the video game, and a great way for the GM to keep things rolling on for the PCs between core story beats. There's a nice selection of trade charts and this compliments the 'between adventures' tables nicely, the trade section is very good for players who like to buy and sell - playing the whole: interstellar trader shtick.

Then there's the pre-made antagonists for split amongst the 3 kinds of combat and further defined in sections such as: Police/Security Forces, Pirates/Criminals, Civvies/Corps.

It's a good section and puts all the tools to run the game at the GM's fingers, with lots to pick and choose from.

Putting it All Together

It's a good solid book, and it brings the video game to life as a tabletop to allow players to explore the fiction outside the cockpit of their chosen vessel. There's plenty of room for various scenarios, such as Espionage, Military Action, Trading, and my favourite: Exploration. It supports a more complex narrative if you desire, with vast plots and shadowy antagonists working in secret. There's the whole Rank system from Elite Dangerous where you can start as Harmless and work your way through to Elite.

There's room here for simple little action games too, with lots of gunfights and space dogfights, where you can turn ED into a FPS.

At the core it's about fast, fun, space adventures with loot and spaceships. You improve the character, the ship, get money, own more ships and basically live the fantastic life of a space badass with a small group of friends, or a large group if you have a lot of players.

It has good writing, great art, and a great feel throughout.

It's a solid book which captures the feel of the Elite Dangerous video game, and provides scope for expansion. You can visit Spidermind's site here to pick up the book, get supplements, and download a lot of free loot.

Ad Astra!

See you out there!