Realms Beyond – A classic turn-based fantasy RPG

Combat System #1: Turn-based, RTwP and the Open Game License

After all this talk of exploration and adventuring, let’s turn our attention to more exciting things, such as combat, shall we? It’s a truly complex and crucial subject and during the time when Realms Beyond was merely an idea, we bounced around a number of approaches how to implement a tactically deep, but also entertaining, turn-based combat system in the game.

Dragon Age combat

We knew right from the beginning that we wanted a classic, turn-based system. Other options were certainly worth discussing and evaluating, but none ever struck us as ideal. We all played Dragon Age (the first and best part) which had a real-time combat system with a Pause-option. Nobody here felt comfortable with the concept of having a similar combat system in our game.

So why did we choose to go strictly turn-based over other systems, such as RTwP (Real-time with Pause)?

Do you remember a very influential RPG that was released during the late 90s? One that actually pretty much single-handedly revived complex RPGs as a genre? Naturally, we’re hinting at Baldur’s Gate here. The game introduced the world to the concept of real-time combat with a pause button. It played very similar to what was already a very popular genre on the PC at the time, Real-time Strategy Games.

Baldur's Gate combatWhen “Baldur’s Gate” arrived, RTwP was a new and exciting way of implementing combat and it was instantly embraced by fans. It felt fresh and ripe with opportunities. And maybe that’s what it took to revive the genre. In today’s market, however, both real-time and turn-based combat systems are pretty much on the table. Players have experienced both. Some players prefer one system, some prefer the other. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but for the vision that we had for Realms Beyond, we always felt that a turn-based system is much closer to what we’re aiming at—bringing back some of the elements of the old-school games we enjoyed in our youth.

So, sure, nostalgia played a large part in our decision. Although at the same time, a turn-based system offers some distinct advantages over real-time combat. Foremost the fact that it pretty much eliminates the element of hand-eye-coordination and puts the focus squarely on strategy and tactics. Clicking and hitting pause fast enough is no longer important, and while that may sacrifice the adrenaline rush that comes with the more action-oriented real-time approach, it enlarges the intellectual scope of combat, makes it more transparent and centres it around the decisions you make. You can take all the time you want to make your decisions. Like a chess player, you can go through a deep-thought process and evaluate different solutions and approaches for the problem at hand. In the end, instead of the speed of your fingers, your personal analysis of and reaction to the situation will be the key factor that determines the outcome of combat.

If ever there was any doubt in our minds, it was completely eradicated the moment we started playing the pen&paper version of D&D in our spare time again. The fun we had when all the players at the table chimed in with their opinions what each, single character should do during their turn was priceless. When you’re dealing with several, vastly diverging opinions as to what the right move is, you just feel the incredible potential that such a free-reeling approach has to offer. “Don’t waste your healing word on me! Save it for the Fighter!”, “If you don’t cast your Wall of Fire now, we will all be in trouble!” Sound familiar? these are the kind of thought processes we want to evoke in a battle in Realms Beyond. It’s fun and it is immensely satisfying, even if you have to do some of the arguments with yourself.

The majority of cRPGS over the past decade or so have used some kind of real-time combat system, both tactical and some more action-orientated. There have been, however, two notable exceptions that have been quite relevant to the genre, providing turn-based fantasy combat: The Temple of Elemental Evil developed by the development studio Troika Games (you are being missed) and Divinity: Original Sin by Larian Studios.

Although Divinity: Original Sin introduced some innovative and fresh elements to the turn-based formula, regarding the combat system, The Temple of Elemental Evil shall be our primary paradigm.


The Temple of Elemental Evil

The reason to choose a 14-year old roleplaying game as the blueprint for our own combat system is quite simple. We do not strive to create our own combat and character system from scratch. Our primary focus is to combine different aspects of classic roleplaying games in the best possible way we’re able to achieve with modern development techniques.

The core system design for a solid RPG is quite a challenging task and the many failed, unbalanced attempts are a testament to that. Computer game designers tend to underestimate the difficulty to create such a complex beast. But there’s no need to re-invent the wheel, really. The Temple of Elemental Evil was based on the 3.5 edition of Dungeons & Dragons™ and fortunately for all of us, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) published the Open Game License in the year 2000. It allows other game creators to produce content based on the System Reference Document 3.5. Boom! Just like that, you have decades of experience in roleplaying system design at your disposal.

By evolving parts of our game rules from this OGL, we are legally obligated to disclose and publish those elements connected to the license. Since we have already decided to create a system that will eventually allow other modders and/or authors to create their own content within in our framework, it was consequential for us to go one step further and make the game rules available in human-readable script code and detailed explanations in the form of an Online Wiki. We will provide more detailed information about the framework—and the Wiki—in future blog posts.

Character Classes in Realms Beyond

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