Realms Beyond – A classic turn-based fantasy RPG

Exploring the World #1: Worldmap Travelling

Aside from the games we already discussed, and the D&D pen&paper system, there is yet another tabletop roleplaying system that had a huge impact on us, particularly during the 90s. Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) is a German pen&paper roleplaying game system that has been hugely successful in German-speaking areas for decades. In fact, for most of the time, it has been more successful here than the D&D ruleset. Gamers outside of Germany may not be familiar with the tabletop variation of it, but many lovers of classic RPGs will, perhaps, remember its computer implementation, Realms of Arkania.

Realms of Arkania travel mapThe first game in the trilogy was called Blade of Destiny and was released in 1992. It was universally acclaimed for its depth and faithfulness to its pen&paper roots. The thing that was really cool about it was its open design. As part of the story, you had to find a legendary sword and in order to locate it, you had to collect pieces and assemble a map that would reveal its hiding place on the world map. The map pieces were randomized so you might find one while trading with a merchant on the road or as a reward for solving a quest that might otherwise have rewarded you with some gold.

Not only did this design feature add a lot of replay value to the game but it also made traveling and exploring the world a big part of the game. Quests would often lead you from one city to another, and often you would have to travel for several days, which required you to set up camp for the night on your journey and feed your party members—not to mention mending their shoes.

Most of the other games we mentioned before have comparable elements. We did highlight the Ultima series for the exploration of Britannia alone. And our fondest memories of Phantasie include the random encounters that would make each journey an adventure. And remember the first time you started moving that little horse around in Pool of Radiance? Suddenly anything seemed possible!

From today’s point of view, it is pretty clear why a world map or a world layer was such a clever design element in a game: It didn’t require the developer to fill every little nook and cranny of the world with content. You did not have to build a whole world’s worth of cities, complete with individual buildings. You did not have to fill swaths of forests with individual trees. And still, the world had a truly epic feel. As a welcome side effect, it didn’t force the player to travel for hours through uninhabited landscapes. When you take a look at modern RPGs that have a huge seamless world fleshed out fully in 3D, you will notice that the designers also had to find a way to speed up those travel times. Something to think about the next time you ride a griffin in World of Warcraft or you use the map screen to fast-travel in Skyrim!

As a small development team, it is kind of difficult for us to fill an entire world with things that the player might end up overlooking and never exploring. At the same time, we don’t want the player to simply hop from town to town and skip over cool things. We do want you to do your own traveling from one town to the next. We do want you to experience the vastness of the world and invite you to explore it. There is this small path into the woods that strays from the broad and safe road you are traveling on? Might be worth exploring! Perhaps you will find the ruins of a small village that could hold treasure. On the other hand—the woods are pretty dark. Who knows? It might be full of undead warriors who fell trying to defend their homes and have been roaming the area for past centuries.

Including a world layer in Realms Beyond is a good and cost-effective way for us to build a larger world, which is open for you to explore. If you’re not feeling that adventurous after all, simply stay on the road. It’s safe… Fairly. But we are also making sure that the world layer is not simply a filler between two dungeons. It will add something to your experience that would be much harder to achieve otherwise: The sense that you are delving into an unknown continent of epic proportions.

A very early version of our worldmap.

Comments in the forum