There are a lot of places that you can find inspiration for Dungeons and Dragons – the fantasy genre has been a staple of videogames since their very beginning, and DnD has in turn inspired a number of releases as well. Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Planescape, Neverwinter Nights; the list goes on!
You can easily take inspiration from DnD videogames for your campaign. In fact, you can transplant the plot from these almost wholesale. You might even be able to find the work of conversion already done for you online. But if you’re looking for something a little more unique, a little more colorful, you might want to expand your search a little bit farther.
Below are a few suggestions of videogames that you should absolutely play (they’re fantastic as they are), and can use to inspire your next campaign. We also find that these tend to be seriously under-loved. You’ve got a decent chance that your players won’t be super familiar with them!
The “Tales” Series
Fun, colorful, and far-reaching, the Tales series includes a whopping 17 games, each with their own story and characters, and most with their own unique world. The first game is titled Tales of Phantasia, although the more recent releases (Tales of Xillia, Zesteria, Berseria, and Arise) are easier to track down and play on modern consoles. Furthermore, each game has a standalone plot, so you won’t be confused if you pick up any of them alone.
In most of these games, you follow a main character on their quest to save their world from some strange and unusual threat, political intrigue, or spiritual threat. Often, their themes have to do with racism and coexistence with people who are vastly different than yourself. The passing of time, alteration of culture, and the prioritization of personal fulfillment versus duty are also common themes in the games.
My personal favorite aspect of these games is their art – colorful and intricate designs light up the screen and make them a pleasure to play. And their elaborate plots, partnered with their fantasy setting and variety of monsters, make them an excellent choice to draw from for your own games.
The “Star Ocean” Series
One of the first game series to allow multiple endings, Star Ocean is both a fantasy and a science fiction adventure all the way through, and one of the first series to include a real-time battle engine as opposed to turn-based rounds. These multiple endings aren’t super easy to unlock, either – you really have to change the way that you play to get them all! There are 11 games in the series, with 6 major installments (the rest being spin-offs and mobile games). The first game recently got a rerelease on the Switch, so you can easily find and play it yourself.
The world of Star Ocean is a vast universe, in which your characters travel from planet to planet, many of which have a more traditional fantasy look and feel. In the fist game, you play as characters discovering about the outer universe, and subsequently go on to explore more of it in later games. Eventually, you discover the very origins of the Star Ocean universe, and determine just how you would react to the revelations that it provides…
These games are great for a Spelljammer game, I think. The use of space travel and exploration, in conjunction with spellcasting and magic, make it east to draw from. Plus, if you have any interest in breaking the fourth wall, or meta storytelling, you’ll want to take a good look at the lore and worldbuilding to be found here!
The Ys Series
A staple of the JRPG genre, the Ys series’ biggest claim to fame is that it was the first game to utilize voice-acting and animation in it’s opening, as well as setting the standard for gaming soundtracks. You can easily find the 2 most recent games (Lacrymosa of Dana and Monstrum Nox) on the Switch and Steam. And you can also find copies of the older games and emulations online and in stores if you want to learn all about the lore of the world.
The series follows the adventures of a single character, Adol Christin, a wandering adventurer, and the friends that he makes along the way. In each game, you make new friends, explore new places, and complete a new (entirely standalone) adventure. Themes of religion, discovery, and friendship are common in the games, which have fairly simple plots in older games, and more elaborate and complicated ones in more recent installments.
Obviously, the soundtrack for these games is a great resource for your own table. And the frequent inclusion of dungeons, ruins, and towers makes for perfect dungeon-delving exploration. You can almost cut-and-paste some of puzzle rooms! And the fact that you control a whole party of characters in later games works great for relating to the party format of DnD.
Vanilla Ware Games
The final recommendation on our list isn’t a specific series of games, but the works of a particular developer: Vanilla Ware. Vanilla Ware games are beautiful, highly anesthetized side-scrolling adventure games, with elaborate plots that emphasize storytelling, animation, and heartfelt messaging.
If you have to choose a game to start with, I’d recommend Odin Sphere, or it’s rerelease Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. The game is available for modern consoles, and can be bought fairly cheaply at most second-hand game stores. The story follows several fairy tale characters, letting you play through each of their stories on their own, until you learn the full interconnectedness of their own personal tales. The stories are sweet and sad in equal measures, and you get a good sense of how each’s choices affect the world around them.
The artwork for these games is gorgeous, and provides plenty of inspiration for characters, magical items, and unique situations to throw at your players. The general emphasis on storytelling above mechanics also makes this developer a good place to start drafting a story of your own.
What games do you draw inspiration from for your DnD games? Have you every played any of the games on our list? Let us know in the comments below!