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Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game’s Lead Designer Explains Game Mechanics and Use of 5E Rules

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We spoke with Steamforged Games Lead RPG Designer Richard August about the decision to blend together Dark Souls and 5E rules. Last month, Steamforged Games revealed that its upcoming Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game would use a version of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules. The announcement garnered a lot of attention and debate as to whether 5E was the “right” system for Dark Souls, even after Steamforged noted that they were replacing certain 5E rules with systems and game mechanics that were more thematically in line with the original games. To get a better idea of what the new Dark Souls TTRPG will be like, we spoke with Steamforged’s Lead RPG Designer Richard August via email: 

ComicBook.com: Your announcement raised a lot of discourse around some corners of the internet, particularly around the game system used for Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game. So, why use 5E instead of another game system or creating a game system from scratch?

Richard August: Dark Souls, as a video game, does two things masterfully: it embroils the player in technically exacting combat, and it tells an enigmatic story. 5e is really a pretty solid combat system, and, by now, its become intuitive for so many people and so many players, that we felt building our game around that engine made sense. There’s also a commercial angle – 5E is the biggest game on the market by an order of magnitude, and we wanted to make a game people are able and willing to play.

Did Steamforged ever consider publishing the original Dark Souls tabletop RPG, which was published by Kadokawa in 2017 and has never received an official English translation?

August: We always intended to make our own game, but we also believe we’d have been unable to publish a translation due to rights issues. 

Do Bonfires and Humanity play a central role in Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game? 

August: They do indeed. Bonfires are, not unexpectedly, where you go to long and short rest, as well as the only place you can spend souls to level up. GMs get to decide how many bonfires they place within a location – as one way of modulating difficulty. Humanity is one of the mechanics surrounding player death in the game; when you respawn, there’s a chance you’ve lost a part of yourself, gradually becoming an empty husk. The mechanic owes a lot to the Call of Cthulhu death spiral, which Ken Hite calls the perfect game mechanic, and I don’t think he’s wrong. I’m not saying ours is perfect – just that we were influenced by the best!

Unless you use optional rules, death is very forgiving in 5E rules. Obviously, dying is a central part of Dark Souls. So, will we see tweaks to that system or other mechanics?

August: Yes, Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game is much more deadly than people might be used to. Health – or rather Position, as we call it – scales more slowly, and there’s certainly no death saves. You hit zero, you’re out. You can also spend your Position, as it’s a amalgam of both health and stamina. This means using your best moves against powerful creatures leaves you extremely vulnerable to the next encounter – it’s all about careful balance. 

How does Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game approach exploration? Will you be building out any new mechanics related to exploration?

August: We’ve got an extensive GM’s chapter talking about that, about evoking the right atmosphere, the right sense of apprehension and surprise for players when entering new locations. There aren’t any new mechanics in the core book, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some planned….

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(Photo: Steamforged)

How well do the monsters of Dark Souls translate to 5E? Is there a particular monster you enjoyed designing for this project?

August: I think they port across pretty nicely – obviously, we’ve got some big changes in the mechanics, but they shouldn’t be too difficult to reskin if you wanted to throw a ravenous crystal lizard at your party as they wandered through Baldur’s Gate. My favourite monster in the book is Yhorm the Giant; I loved his aesthetic in the original video game, I love the peculiar nobility of him, and he’s an absolute beast to fight. Alex Delaney, who did the bulk of the monster design, did an excellent job with him.

While Dark Souls has some cooperative multiplayer aspects, the video games aren’t a true cooperative experience in the same way that most TTRPGs are. How do you reconcile the themes of Dark Souls with the more cooperative aspects of a tabletop roleplaying game?

August: There’s always been the possibility of cooperation in Dark Souls, of working together, so it was more a case of bringing that element to the front than building it ex nihilo, so to speak. Dark Souls is about entropy, about loss, about corruption – and in many ways, those themes are even more potent as part of a group. I think that’s one of the reasons Lovecraftian cosmic horror remains such a fertile ground for TTRPGs. The dwindling of self, the gradual excoriation of the world around you… all of these elements of Dark Souls are made even more sharply poignant when experienced as a group, in my mind. 

Will Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game be limited to the regions and characters seen in the first game? Or will we see material from other Dark Souls games as well?

August: Most of the game is actually drawn from the third Dark Souls game. Partly, that was down to us as a team being most familiar with Dark Souls III. We do have plans to bring in new and additional material, and, all being well, that includes monsters, locations, and characters from earlier games.

What do you think fans will enjoy the most about Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game?

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August: I’m hoping it’s the chance to explore their version of Dark Souls. The game was built with real fidelity to the core vision of Dark Souls, but with the freedom to let players bring their own distinctive ideas and impressions to the world. I really hope we’ve achieved something that allows new and experienced Dark Souls players to experience Lothric in a new way.

Dark Souls: The Roleplaying Game is available for pre-order starting on February 8th.

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