Play Skyrim in D&D... and 9 more ways to turn your favorite games into tabletop RPGs

You and your friends have gotten to the end of another great game, but you still want more. You yearn for more adventures to embark on, more secrets to find, and more stories to tell. The sequel will come out eventually, sure, but you could gather everyone around the table and just keep playing right now. It's all thanks to the one magical property that tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons will always have over their video game cousins: the human capacity for fudging it.

You don't need to wait for someone else to make more challenges for your beloved party of Guardians or Rebel commandos. In some cases, there are even officially sanctioned pen-and-paper games waiting to pick up wherever you left off. But even if there isn't, you can just pick up a game that roughly aligns with what you want, start playing, and if you encounter something that doesn't fit, fudge it! Here's everything you'll need to get started.

Universal stuff

Every tabletop RPG is different, but many of them either rely on or can be enhanced by these items. Dice are essential for adding uncertainty to the story while battle grids and markers can help you keep track of big, chaotic situations. Don't feel like you have to map out every single location, though.

Dice
Buy it US: $12.99 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £8.99 from Amazon

Battle grid
Buy it US: $29.99 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £21.49 from Amazon

Wet erase markers
Buy it US: $4.45 at Amazon | Buy it UK: £6.74 at Amazon

Skyrim

I'm amazed that there's still no official Elder Scrolls tabletop RPG. But who needs it? We already have Dungeons & Dragons. D&D's influenced just about every video game to ever use the term 'level up' and it's still going strong even as it approaches its 50th anniversary. The latest version of D&D is only a few years old, and it's a fast-moving, forward-thinking take on fantasy roleplay. You'll need a copy of the Player's Handbook whether you're playing or running the game. The Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide are both helpful for prepping games and making tweaks to the system, though creative dungeon masters who don't mind making up a bunch of stuff on the fly might be able to get along without them.

D&D Player's Handbook
Buy it US: $29.74 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £38.99 from Amazon

D&D Monsters Manual
Buy it US: $30.58 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £38.99 from Amazon

D&D Dungeon Master's Guide
Buy it US: $29.73 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £27.53 from Amazon

Tips to make it Skyrim: The D&D core rulebooks use The Forgotten Realms as a default setting (that's where Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter are) but they're easily transplanted to other fantasy worlds. Check out this fan-made conversion for some more guidance. Don't forget to bring over the spirit of the games, too; The Elder Scrolls series emphasizes freedom and character growth, so prep some points of interest that feed into greater storylines then let your players choose their own path.

Grand Theft Auto

You could use any number of RPG systems to simulate an unhinged rampage full of vehicular manslaughter and exploding helicopters, but Fiasco uniquely captures the ever-escalating criminal schemes of Grand Theft Auto. Fiasco is unique among these RPGs in that it doesn't require a dedicated game master; instead, every player follows the same loose set of rules as they work together to tell the story of an overambitious group of people for whom everything inevitably goes wrong. There are a bunch of optional supplements, but all you'll need to play Fiasco is the main rulebook and two sets of differently colored six-sided dice.

Fiasco Role Playing Game
Buy it US: $19.49 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £18.58 from Amazon 

Tips to make it GTA: Most crime stories in the GTA universe start out small and conclude with anger, betrayal, and ridiculously over-the-top action. Tell everybody in your group to keep that in mind as they go and you're bound to have a good time. Surely somebody can think of an excuse to have a grudge and a trunk full of hand grenades?

Red Dead Redemption

There's no shortage of Western-themed role-playing games out there for Red Dead Redemption fans. But for my fistful of dollars, Deadlands Reloaded is one of the best. It's based on the relatively lightweight and fast-moving Savage Worlds system and it's filled with fun thematic nods to the Old West: duels at high noon are won by whoever can assemble the best Texas hold 'em hand and there are special traits for revolver-packing gunslingers who like to fan the hammer, for instance. You'll need all three of these books to play and run a game, but don't let that scare you off. They're all much smaller than your average RPG rulebook.

Deadlands Reloaded Player's Guide
Buy it US: $19.99 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £29.85 from Amazon

Deadlands Reloaded Marshal's Handbook
Buy it US: $19.99 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £15.16 from Amazon

Savage Worlds Deluxe: Explorer's Edition
Buy it US: $8.57 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £6.87 from Amazon

Tips to make it Red Dead Redemption: By default, Deadlands is a western horror game in which you're just as likely to get devoured by a ghoul as you are gunned down by bandits. You can easily nix those supernatural elements if you prefer, but leave room for them to come back later if you decide to take your posse into Undead Nightmare territory.

Star Wars Battlefront

First off, I know it sounds fun, but please don't try to run a 64-player tabletop game. You will go mad and somebody will definitely spill Mountain Dew on your rug. Instead, embrace the Rebels vs. Imperials spirit of Star Wars Battlefront with a rousing game of Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. It runs on one of my personal favorite RPG systems (which also powers its sister products Edge of the Empire and Force and Destiny) and uses special dice to make every roll expand the story. It's so good I'd recommend it even if you're not into Star Wars. The Age of Rebellion Beginner Game is a great way to get started. It has all the rules you need, a pre-built adventure and characters, and dice for a very reasonable price. If you like it, pick up the full core rulebook and keep the adventure going!

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Beginner Game (comes with dice!)
Buy it US: $25.04 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £28.88 from Amazon

Star Wars: Age of Rebellion Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $45.00 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £54.19 from Amazon

Star Wars RPG Dice
Buy it US: $14.99 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £11.99 from Amazon  

Tips to make it Star Wars: Battlefront: If you want your campaign to remind you of Battlefront and not just Star Wars, follow DICE's lead and let your players participate in the biggest conflicts of the original trilogy. Give yourself some extra room to work by telling parallel stories: maybe they're the X-wing squadron that keeps an entire wing of TIE fighters from ambushing Luke during his trench run, or the unlikely band of technicians and soldiers who hold off stormtroopers long enough for Rebel command to escape Echo Base. If they fail, or if things otherwise don't go quite as they did in the movies? Congratulations, you're making your own Star Wars now.

Dragon Age

This one's easy! There's already an official Dragon Age RPG, and it's really good. Players can choose from all the major races and classes featured in the BioWare trilogy and go on adventures fighting darkspawn, currying favor and sabotaging rivals in the Orlaisian Grand Game, and everything in between. The stunt system (which works like extra-flexible ‘critical hits’ for any kind of challenge) deserves special mention; no encounter will feel predictable when your character is always just a few stunt points away from cleaving through two foes at once or making a miraculous discovery. This core rulebook bundles together everything you and your party will need to make the combined adventures of The Warden, Hawke, and The Inquisitor look like killing rats in a basement.

Dragon Age RPG Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $59.77 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £48.17 plus international shipping from Green Ronin

Tips to make it Dragon Age: Er, as I said, it's already Dragon Age. But! Think about the moments you remember best from playing the video games and try to evoke similar feelings around the table. Emphasize how prejudices and politics influence the characters' lives and give them the chance to make decisions that will change the world. Don't worry about sticking to the canon - a huge part of Dragon Age is making your own!

Mass Effect

Until BioWare comes to its senses and approves an official Mass Effect tabletop RPG, Traveller is a great bet for conversion. It's built with a similar hard sci-fi ethos and it's incredibly versatile, with rules for everything from socializing to ship-to-ship combat to asteroid mining. It's also one of the longest-running RPGs ever, so you can find plenty of resources to hack it into shape. There are actually two current editions of Traveller due to weird licensing arrangements, but for new players I'd recommend the one from Mongoose Publishing.

Traveller Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $36.07 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £23.83 from Amazon

Tips to make it Mass Effect: Well, replace all instances of the word 'Psionics' with 'Biotics', that'll take you pretty far. Assuming you're setting the game in a pre-Reaper-invasion Milky Way, play up how important the Mass Relays and Citadel are to galactic civilization. How do advanced cultures reconcile with their reliance on not-fully-understood technology? And remember that humans are still newcomers beyond the Solar System - if your group is full of homo sapiens, they're going to get some funny looks!

Destiny

As Arthur C. Clarke wrote, "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". That's one of the driving forces of Destiny, where Guardians infuse ancient machine guns with a mysterious substance called Light to make them shoot more good. It's also central to Numenera, a science-fantasy game set on Earth after the rise and fall of eight successive civilizations - each of which left technology behind for their successors to worship and/or misuse. The Numenera Corebook is all you need to get started. Aside from dice and paper and friends, I mean.

Traveller Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $43.37 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £56.28 from Amazon

Tips to make it Destiny: If fantasy and science fiction are a spectrum, Numenera falls a bit closer to fantasy and Destiny to sci-fi. Fortunately, some fans have already come up with their own conversion rules to get you started liberally sprinkling exotic shotguns into your campaign. Numenera's combat system is abstracted enough that it should be relatively trivial to turn a Stiletto Beetle into a Hive Thrall and so on.

Fallout

A grim, brutal, and (mostly) grounded series like Fallout deserves the same treatment in an RPG adaptation. Enter The Morrow Project, which has been around since Fallout and its predecessor Wasteland were glimmers in Brian Fargo's eye. Both games are predicated on a similar idea: a small group of survivors emerges after a nuclear holocaust, where the few humans that remain are plagued by scarcity and mutated wildlife. Whether you use your skills to rebuild society or profit off of the chaos, death is never far off in the wasteland. The Morrow Project's most recent edition was published in 2013, but be forewarned: it still has a lot of that old-school crunch to it. This might not be a good system to start with if you haven't played many tabletop RPGs before.

Traveller Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $39.95 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £24.32 from Amazon

Tips to make it Fallout: Want your adventure to feel extra SPECIAL? On top of vividly describing all the burnt Nuka-Cola signs on the side of the road, run your campaign with equal parts brutality and off-kilter humor. If crooked merchants don't explode into piles of gore and there aren't any centuries-old skeletons posed in compromising positions, it isn't Fallout. 

Sleeping Dogs

To play your own dice-based version of the kung fu, car chase, slow-motion gunfight escapades of Sleeping Dogs, look no further than Feng Shui 2nd Edition. This system was built from the ground up to recreate Hong Kong action cinema and you can feel it on every page. Character creation is simplified, combat rounds are fast and deadly, everything is about speed and impact and looking really frickin' cool. Oh, and those chase rules? Heavenly. After almost two decades with the original, Feng Shui 2 was finally made possible thanks to the magic of Kickstarter in 2015. Get your six-sided dice ready and pick up a copy of the all-in-one rulebook.

Traveller Core Rulebook
Buy it US: $49.95 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £39.32 from Amazon

Tips to make it Sleeping Dogs: Much like Deadlands, Feng Shui has a heavy supernatural element that can be excised by ruling out a few character classes and features. The rest of the game stands fine on its own without delving into the secret, timeline-spanning Chi War. And you can always add the magic back in again if you decide Nightmare in North Point wasn't just a bad dream...

Others

Your preferred game wasn't covered here, or you're not so sure about the system I paired it up with? That's fine, there are many more options out there just ripe for the hacking. Let me leave you with a parting recommendation for the FATE Core system. It's narratively focused but still has enough solid rules and dice rolling to keep your players guessing, and it's specifically designed to be easy to modify with no specific setting. You don't technically need the special dice to play, any six-siders will do with a little bit of mental conversion, but… they're so pretty.

FATE Core System
Buy it US: $19.75 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £16.99 from Amazon

FATE Dice
Buy it US: $12.57 from Amazon | Buy it UK: £11.53 from Amazon

We recommend