Helldivers 2 lead says the game's farcical comedy was inspired by tabletop games like D&D—and he's nowhere near the first dev to worship at the altar of pen and paper

An image of a Helldiver from Helldivers 2 shooting at a red dragon from Dungeons & Dragons.
(Image credit: Arrowhead Games / Wizards of the Coast)

I've written a touch about Helldivers 2's slapstick deaths, reinforced by rapid respawns and a low punishment for beefing it—its Magika-esque friendly fire systems also contributing to its 'Warhammer 40k Gone Wrong' vibes. It joins Lethal Company as a game where dying is just inherently funny, each panicked, scrambling doom its own punchline.

Arrowhead Games history of games centred around friendly fire fun is—according to the studio's CEO and creative director Johan Pilestedt—directly inspired by the chaos of tabletop roleplaying (thanks, GamesRadar). 

(Image credit: @Pilestedt on Twitter/X.)

"[Comedy] is absolutely what I'm going for when I design games. The concept originates from years of playing [pen and paper] RPGs, where the players manage to turn everything into a farce. No matter if it's Cthulhu or D&D, it always ends with us crying of laughter."

As someone with a vested interest in running tabletop myself, Pilestedt is bang on the money here. The improv nature of most TTRPG games always leads to a chaotic network of stacking consequences, which can easily result in four grown adults giggling like school children around a bunch of dice and pencils. 

That word choice—'farce'—describes it perfectly. A good old-fashioned farcical comedy is built on physical humour, absurd situations, and unlikely circumstances—all things the whims of the dice help to enable. In a bi-weekly Sunday game I play over discord, the ongoing debate over whether horses actually exist or not has grown into a running joke that raises my cleric's blood pressure while I remain in stitches.

Helldivers 2 doesn't have a single dice roll in it, but it does occupy the same space by virtue of every mission being a playground. Here's a video of one player having a grenade hucked back at them by a bug completely on accident, to which Pilestedt replies: "this is the reason why you always simulate everything even though it doesn't make sense at the time." You can almost picture the DM saying: 'You rolled a natural one? Uh. The grenade bounces off a bug's hand and flies back at you, and you swear it pulled the pin. Make a dexterity saving throw.'

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I've even seen this play out over the weekend. As I mentioned in an opinion piece yesterday, my matches with some of the PC Gamer crew led to a situation in which we all equipped "Rover" Guard Dog backpacks, creating a game of deadly laser tag where none of us were in control. Shoutout to our guides writer Sean Martin, who kept throwing himself in the hole left by a deployed ICBM for The Bit every single time. Sterling dedication.

Pilestedt isn't the first to be inspired by his time playing TTRPGs. Here's a piece we wrote a few years ago detailing different devs from different games, and how thoroughly they've been inspired by the likes of Dungeons and Dragons. Deus Ex's Warren Spector, James Ohlen of the original Baldur's Gate games—even John Romero, father of Doom, said: 

"We never thought that the D&D games we were playing would end up influencing our game designs … It just flowed easily and was enthralling. We all liked playing together. No one pored over stat sheets, and no battle or rewards were held up due to some arcane rule lawyering. D&D was yet another way that we gelled as a team."

While games like Baldur's Gate 3 are obviously inspired by the freeform nonsense of TTRPGs, it's fascinating to me how the act of 'sitting around a table with four of your mates and engaging in dice-fuelled hallucinations' has genuinely unlocked the creativity behind many of gaming's classics—and now Helldivers 2 gets to join that canon. Once spots at the table are freed up, that is.

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Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.