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Tabletop RPGMar 4, 2024 10:00 am CT

Bring a Soulslike video game feeling to your tabletop with these TTRPGs

With news of Elden Ring‘s DLC, Shadow of the Erdtree, finally getting a launch date of June 21, 2024, a lot of fans are once again preparing to venture into the Lands Between once again — so many, in fact, that Elden Ring shot back into the top 10 bestselling games on Steam after the announcement. Of course, Soulslike video games with their notorious difficulty curves aren’t necessarily the friendliest ones to venture into; despite that, there’s a lot to like about the genre — the melancholy feel of trying to make a difference in a cursed and dying world, embodying a character who isn’t necessarily a hero but who does shake up the status quo, the bestiary of strange and utterly alien creature designs, and more. What if you wanted to bring that feeling to a more analog form of gaming: your tabletop RPGs? I’ve got a few great options for you.

First off, a caveat: none of these is the official Dark Souls RPG by Steamforged. I’ll be blunt: that game does a very poor job of embodying the feelings of playing something like Dark Souls or Elden Ring. The game is more of a Dark Souls 3 module for D&D 5th Edition. If that’s what you want, it’s available, but the heroic fantasy and extremely forgiving difficulty of 5E (despite the changes Steamforged made to the underlying system in an attempt to make it more deadly) don’t even remotely emulate the experience of a Soulslike game. This might also be what you have to settle on if you have a whole group of people wanting to play who don’t want to try something new, despite the fact that the Souls experience is fundamentally a lonely one.

However, if you’re willing to give something new a shot, or perhaps are looking to dip your toes into the world of solo RPGs, read on. Here are three TTRPGs that capture that Soulslike gameplay feeling.

Kill, die, repeat: Dice Souls (for two players)

Chris Bissette’s Dice Souls presents a game for two players — one playing the Guide, one playing the Reborn — that aims to be a zero-prep dungeon exploration game designed to evoke one of the core Dark Souls game loops: meeting a monster you don’t understand, fighting it, dying, and returning armed with knowledge of how it works. The Reborn will die, and that’s to be expected, because that’s how you improve. Dice Souls includes some very cool systems evocative of the material that inspired it; bosses include a system for telegraphing their attacks, allowing The Reborn to adapt to attack patterns, and the lore of the world the two of you are collaboratively building is vague at first — your exploration and your combat will fill it out together, building a unique setting for any two people playing it together. Best of all, you can get started very quickly; Dice Souls offers a completely free quickstart with two character classes, a very stripped-down version of all the rules, a small bestiary, and an introductory area for the Reborn to begin exploring.

Take back your fate: RUNE (a solo RPG)

Gila RPGs’ RUNE is deliberately evocative of Elden Ring, specifically, and for players who got hooked on Soulslikes via the Lands Between, that might be exactly your ticket to a fun game. RUNE is a solo RPG that sees the player playing an Engraved, cursed to wander the shattered land of Obron, explore its realms, and take the power of its Rune Lords to control their own fate. While playing you cycle between two phases: Exploration and Combat. Exploration has its own dangers as you push through the realms of Obron; it’s up to you to decide when you risk advancing and when to pull back to seek a moment of peace. Combat is a tactical affair that takes place on a 4×4 grid; enemies are controlled by a roll of the dice, telegraphing their intentions so that your Engraved might have a chance to win the day and seize their enemy’s power. It becomes almost like a puzzle to solve, which is a fairly unique approach to combat in any game, much less a solo one.

RUNE also offers a variety of third-party content, as well as a RUNE Creator’s Kit if you want to get started making your own Realms for other Engraved to explore — or just for your own use.

A doom metal album of a game: MÖRK BORG (a more traditional TTRPG)

Pelle Nilsson and Johan Nohr’s MÖRK BORG is self-described as a spiked flail to the face, a game that’s light on rules and heavy on everything else. MÖRK BORG presents a world that is in the throes of its own death, whether it realizes it or not, and then throws your scoundrels and scavengers into the midst of it and challenges them to thrive or survive. Are you seeking redemption or riches? Are you just trying to make it from one day to the next? Either way, the world is dying; MÖRK BORG even includes a table to roll on, disguised as a set of prophecies, and once they’re all fulfilled, the world literally ends (the book also says to burn your copy of the book, but it’s up to you if you go that far). The book itself, available from Free League, is almost as much of a doom metal art project as a game; where the rules end and the flavor begin can be tricky sometimes, but it’s a joy to look at and it simply oozes flavor. (And if you want a more readable version for free, check out the Bare Bones edition — all of the rules, none of the art). Death is cheap and lurks around every corner, and small triumphs seem even larger when the setting itself is so lethal.

There’s a reason MÖRK BORG has won eight Ennies; between the streamlined rules, the feeling of roleplaying in a black metal album cover, and the wealth of online content available, this game is beloved for people who want that “slowly dying world” feeling that video game players love in their Dark Souls and Elden Ring style games. If you want that, and you’ve got a whole group on board, maybe MÖRK BORG is the game for you.

That’s all I have for Soulslikes (for now), but if you’re looking for more recommendations check out our tabletop category for other games.

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