This post is sponsored by Desperados III.
Stealth-action video game series Desperados recently returned to PC screens for the first time in over a decade, bringing back the long-running franchise’s signature mix of real-time tactics, dynamic characters and immersive western setting.
To celebrate the launch of Desperados III on PC, Xbox and PS4, its creators have put together a free pen-and-paper roleplaying game that lets you and your friends step into the world of gunslinging cowpokes, train robberies, cattle rustling and deadly duels.
Designed for total newcomers to tabletop roleplaying, the Desperados pen-and-paper RPG uses a simple system to bring the video game’s world and gameplay to life on the table. Players are able to create their own distinctive characters with unique skills and traits, rolling three six-sided dice to quickly resolve tests and combat as they explore the Wild West. The tabletop RPG includes a starter adventure for players to embark on, along with the option to turn it into an ongoing campaign as the characters earn experience and make a name for themselves.
We’ve taken a look at the tabletop RPG and trained our deadeye on the ways that it sticks closely to the experience of playing the video game. So saddle up as we take you through eight of the ways the Desperados pen-and-paper RPG faithfully captures the video game.
1. Combat is truly tactical
Desperados wouldn’t be Desperados without the series’ real-time tactical combat, a staple since the franchise’s first instalment Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive debuted in 2001. The Desperados pen-and-paper RPG is no exception, including rules specifically geared to bring the tension and action of the video games to the tabletop.
The game master lays out the tokens representing the players’ characters, their opponents and any terrain for the current combat scenario. As in the video game, enemies have a field of vision that the players must carefully stay out of to avoid being spotted, allowing the party to position themselves strategically before entering a fight.
Terrain plays a key role on the battlefield, with trees, buildings and other structures blocking enemies’ fields of vision and providing cover once the bullets start flying.
2. Stealth feels super sneaky
Going in guns blazing isn’t always the best option. As in Desperados III, players can eliminate foes quietly to help even the odds against large groups of enemies - as long as they stay out of sight, that is.
To avoid putting themselves at risk, the player characters can make use of a wide variety of skills to stay in the shadows and leave the enemies guessing at their location. Gunslinger characters are able to cause distractions and manipulate foes’ fields of vision, allowing the group to slip by unnoticed. Sometimes the best place to hide is in plain view instead, with the Gambler able to apply their disguise and move through fields of vision without taking damage.
With careful movement and clever use of skills, the group will be able to neutralise groups of enemies without firing a shot - an immensely satisfying feeling.
3. The action never slows
Desperados III’s real-time gameplay means that players must think on their feet to make it through unscathed, reacting to the movement and actions of enemies as they try to deal with them quickly and quietly.
While the Desperados pen-and-paper RPG features turn-based combat, in which the players get one action each before their opponents deal damage, it also includes the ability for the whole group to perform a concerted attack. Much like Desperados III’s Showdown Mode, concerted attacks capture the tight timing and cooperation between the characters to act simultaneously, allowing the party to potentially take out all of the remaining opponents before they have a chance to respond. All of the players roll to see whether their individual actions succeed - if all of them do and all opponents are eliminated, none of the players take damage.
Combined with the RPG’s simple dice system and lightweight rules, this means that the tabletop game is able to keep the same fluid pace as the video game.
4. Duels are tense - and deadly
No western is complete without a duel, whether it’s pistols at dawn or a quick-draw in a saloon. The Desperados pen-and-paper RPG features rules tailored to capture the tension and rush of two gunslingers stood facing each other, trigger fingers itching. Like the video game’s shootouts, things can come to a quick and definitive end.
In the tabletop RPG, the duelists secretly choose how long they want to wait before drawing and shooting by setting a die between one and six. For each round that passes, it becomes easier to focus on your target and land a shot - but risks your opponent firing first. If the ranged combat test is successful, one shot is often enough to dispatch a simple henchperson. Tougher bosses, however, might be left standing - leading to the potential for another tense duel.
5. Its Wild West is cinematic and immersive
Like the other games in the series, Desperados III draws heavily from western movies and other Wild West depictions across pop culture. Set in the same world as the video game, the pen-and-paper RPG is just as seeped in the tropes of the western genre - there’s even some recommended soundtracks and extra reading/watching material in the rulebook to help give it that extra sprinkle of atmosphere when playing. You can almost smell the dust and gunpowder.
That’s not to say that Desperados doesn’t take its setting seriously when necessary. The rulebook features a quick guide to the defining events and names of the 1800s Wild West in order to provide some background and inspiration to the action, including some sensitivity advice on handling Native American characters and cultures respectfully in any sessions.
Finding a balance between joyously reverent of the Wild West’s romanticised depiction in pop culture and historical reality, the Desperados RPG offers plenty of sunsets to ride off in, prospecting towns to visit and notorious names to pursue.
6. You can harness Voodoo powers
Desperados III introduces Isabelle Moreau to the video game’s crew of playable characters. Isabelle’s Voodoo powers make her a formidable presence, able to control enemies’ minds, bind them together for connected kills and distract enemies with her pet cat Stella.
The Desperados pen-and-paper RPG allows any character to become a Voodoo priest, selecting powerful spells that recall Isabelle’s techniques in the video game. Players start out with two spells and earn more with each level they acquire, mastering the ability to mind-control opponents, bind their fates with enchanted darts and heal their companions, among others. Just Stella’s talents require a blood sacrifice, players’ characters must spend their Strength of Nerve - the RPG’s equivalent to stamina - to perform these abilities, making them powerful at a cost.
7. The odds are against you (but you can handle them)
Taking on large gangs of enemies with a tight-knit group of characters is part of the thrill of the Desperados video games. Desperados III continues that trend; without the ability to rely on superior numbers, your party’s success comes down to careful planning, clever use of the skills at your disposal and just a pinch of luck.
Encounters in its pen-and-paper RPG counterpart are equally stacked against the heroes, with players often finding themselves outnumbered and needing to out-think their opponents. (When success doesn’t just come down to who’s fastest on the trigger, that is.)
Luckily, the player characters are more than capable enough to even the odds. Using their affinity for stealth and diverse repertoire of abilities, the party is able to quietly dispatch opponents without facing the threat of being overwhelmed.
The presence of simple henchpeople - who can be taken out with little fuss when approached carefully - and bosses, who require a little more planning and can only be targeted one their lackeys are dealt with, introduces an extra layer of challenge and strategy. Working together, there’s nothing that the team can’t handle.
8. There’s no shortage of memorable moments
For all the reasons above and more, Desperados III has plenty of memorable moments. The video game hands players a box of tools to use as they see fit, finding inventive ways to see off their opponents and survive each scenario without being pumped full of lead.
The Desperados pen-and-paper RPG pushes the video game’s potential for chaos driven by the players’ creativity even further. Just as the video game allows players to make use of their surroundings by pushing rocks on unsuspecting goons, leading them into the path of steam trains or even the wrong end of a cow’s horns, the tabletop RPG features simple rules for using environmental hazards to neutralise enemies with the terrain around the characters. Or they might just end up caught in one of the Trapper’s bear traps.
Achieving a Grand Success - beating the difficulty level set by the GM and rolling a double during a dice roll - adds the potential for extra moments of cowpoke coolness. Players gain an extra advantage from a table, potentially eliminating extra opponents, vanishing from their vision or dodging damage.
This all adds up to a pen-and-paper RPG that faithfully captures the feel of the video game, allowing players to freely explore even more of the world of Desperados with friends on the tabletop.
You can download the Desperados pen-and-paper RPG from the DriveThru RPG website for free right now.