There are many ways in which I could tackle this project. The order of the chapters in GURPS Adaptations is as good as any. Therefore, we’ll start our Dragon’s Dogma adaptation by looking at the setting’s high concept and considering our general approach to converting it to GURPS.
What is Dragon’s Dogma?
Dragon’s Dogma is a video game originally released for the Playstation 3, where it was shortly followed by a big expansion named “Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen”. The expansion contains the full original game and adds a several new areas and features to it. More recently, the game was ported to PC.
This is an action game with RPG elements, set in a fantasy world. Its combat is quite dynamic and its soundtrack excellent. Its setting contains quite a few distinctive elements, which we will explore in detail below.
One thing I must get out of the way immediately is how full of spoilers this series of articles is going to be. The game’s plot contains several important twists, and while it does enjoy commercial success, it’s not so famous that I can simply assume any potential reader has already played it.
This adaptation will mostly depict the setting as it stands before the game starts, and discuss information that is common knowledge to the characters who live there. There will be separate posts dealing with its deeper secrets, and those will both contain spoilers be marked as such.
The Eternal Cycle
Land and skies, and seas yearn
Finish the cycle of eternal return!
From the Dragon’s Dogma song “Eternal Return”
This “Eternal Return” is the original game’s main theme. Every once in a great while (years, decades, sometimes centuries), a huge rift opens in the sky of its fantasy setting and an enormous dragon comes through. Every time this happens, the dragon binds a specific human to it by ritually stealing and eating their heart. This chosen victim is known as the Arisen, for instead of dying they carry on living without a pulse, and possessed of a strange mental link to the dragon.
Each Arisen is fated to confront their dragon. Those who are successful are hailed as heroes, and often become rulers: there are at least two dinasties started by former Arisen. In fact, the society of the entire world is shaped by this cycle. This has happened many times in the past, and if there’s one thing the inhabitants of this world can be sure of, is that it will happen again.
This theme gets a lot of exposure, pretty much constantly. Several of the setting elements connected to it have existed in the world for so long no one finds them unusual. Much of the game’s plot involves finding out ancient clues about these draconic invasions. Plenty of NPCs will never stop reminding you that the ruler of the nation where the story takes place is a former Arisen himself. They will also constantly remind you that there’s a fight against the dragon looming in your future. And the verses quoted above show up in one form or another in most of the game’s soundtrack.
The land is old, and that doesn’t just mean it’s full of dungeons, either. Several landmarks you pass by regularly are structures build in ancient times, and your chatty NPC companions will always remark upon this. Some are so old no one even remembers who built them, or what they are for. Few people seem to be curious about this, either, which is another sign that from their point of view this stuff has just always been there.
A small army of monsters enters the world along with the Dragon, and many others are either native or managed to survive and form stable populations after a previous invasion. While there are safe spaces for humanity here and there, the space between them is monster territory. Several of the in-game NPC remarks and plot points show that keeping even a minimum standard of safety is a thankless job, and that major incursions are a constant danger.
Every time the player goes into a dungeon or transitions between areas while inside one, the loading screen displays scary messages emphasizing how dangerous the place is.
Often, when the player defeats a particularly nasty monster, nearby NPCs will remark on how unusual and spectacular that feat is. “Normal” people can only hope to stand against these in great numbers, and expecting losses.
The setting of Dragon’s Dogma will be discussed in greater detail in future posts, I’ll give a brief description here.
The whole game takes place in the independent duchy of Gransys, which shares an unnamed fantasy world with several other nations from which it is separated by a mountain range or by the sea. It looks and feels quite medieval, with NPC clothing often remniscent of 13th and 14th century European attire (PC clothing and gear tends to be more outlandish). Their speech patterns are distinctive as well - the characters in this game do a better job of sounding medieval than those in many others. The landscape is typical of Europe-inspired fantasy settings, with forests, plains and mountains. The “age” and “danger” themes discussed above are heavily expressed in the design of this landscape, too.
Other nations are mentioned by name, and some of the NPCs come from them, but the player never goes there.
There is magic, and its existence is public. It is learned through the study of arcane principles. Most characters are human, and are racially diverse. The single nonhuman people (as opposed to monsters) are the Pawns. Pawns look human but have a different, somewhat alien mentality. They mostly wander the land working as mercenaries, but all have a special tie to the Arisen.
What do you do as an Arisen in Dragon’s Dogma? You walk the land either searching for answers to the mystery of the Dragon, or performing tasks for the Duke to make the kingdom of Gransys a safer place. Both often involve entering dark underground ruins, fighting a lot of monsters, and plundering their treasure. The deepest, darkest secrets are buried in the deepest, darkest, most dangerous dungeons.
The game is single-player, but party-based. You directly control the Arisen and are accompanied by anywhere from one to three AI-controlled Pawns. One of those you create with the same level of detail as the Arisen. The others come from other players.
You belong to one of nine different “vocations”, which are in effect character classes. Each one uses different equipment and has different abilities, which you learn as you “rank up” in each vocation. It’s possible to go somewhere and find a monster that’s vastly more powerful than what you’re prepared to deal with at the moment.
Combat is real-time and fairly dynamic. Martial characters attack with weapons and have a varied repertoire of techniques as special powers. Spellcasters use staves and cast spells. Spells can consist of elemental attacks and buffs, health and status healing, or debuffs. Matching elemental effects to enemy weaknesses is an important strategy.
There is limited grappling, too, as it’s possible to restrain human-scale enemies so an ally can kill them. It’s also possible to climb larger “boss” monsters in order to reach their weak spots.
Most of the time is spent travelling on foot to important locations and exploring them. The game’s cities are more than just abstract collections of shops, but there’s only two of them on the map, with the rest of it being dungeon/quest sites and the monster-infested hinterlands. There are plenty of sidequests of the “kill X enemies” or “fetch X items” sort, and you can ignore the main plot to work on them, but many can be completed as you work on said main plot.
There is a vast amount of items and equipment available, and you can improve your equipment by working with an armorer and providing them with payment and specific materials (many of which are monster parts).
As in all games, there is some conflict between story and gameplay, but it’s not especially jarring. The biggest element of this would be Gransys’ somewhat truncated map. It only has two settlements with all its other locations consisting of dungeon or quest sites, but the story implies the duchy is bigger than that.
Given Gransys’s overall look and feel, and what is expected of the player in the original game, this definitely sounds like a job for Dungeon Fantasy! That line will provide an excellent starting base, and only a little additional customization should be required to cover the elements unique to Dragon’s Dogma.
What would these elements be? The first one is that it goes a bit beyond the default DF assumption that “town” is an abstract place to buy stuff between dungeon raids. “Town” is a concrete place, what goes on there is important, and can be an adventure in itself.
On the other hand, it doesn’t to that much beyond the default assumption, as we’ve seen. There are only two fully-detailed settlements in all of Gransys, though the story implies there should be more. In our adaptation, we’ll expand the in-game map to the size it’s supposed to be, and fill some of the extra space with additional settlements. Or at least provide enough information for the GM to come up with one when needed. This will also give us the added benefit of more room to for dungeons and for wilderness adventuring.
Character-wise, some change will be needed to the default DF template set. All magic in this setting is arcane, and most magicians are of the “staff and robes” kind. We will also need an extra template or two to exemplify the “hybrid” martial/magic vocations, which are the most distinctive. We should also come up with a racial template for pawns, since they are a common sight. And, though not every game needs to be about the Arisen, an Arisen meta-trait would be a useful thing to have.
There’s no need to replicate each and every item and piece of equipment from the original game in GURPS, as GURPS already has a quite serviceable gear list that does provide some overlap. We might stat up one of two particularly distinctive items, though. And the equipment enhancement system is distinctive enough that it needs a tabletop equivalent.
The most work-intensive bit, and the one most likely to yield dividends for generic Dungeon Fantasy games, are the monsters. There’s a ton of them, and DF can always use more monsters! We’ll try to link them to already existing GURPS versions, but some will need their own stats.
Finally, but no less important, we’ll take a look at each of these elements as we go through them and discuss how they may be used in isolation in more generic campaigns. This way, you can use this material for your own “not-quite-Dragon’s-Dogma” setting.