Tales of Ǫnd - A Tabletop to Action RPG Game Design: First Draft

Tales of Ǫnd - A Tabletop to Action RPG Game Design: First Draft

Marissa Schmidt
by sunasoldier on 31 May 2021 for Rookie Awards 2021

Over the last couple of years I have worked towards a personal property that could be used in a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop setting, until I spent this past semester turning it into an AAA Action RPG. This is Version 0.1. Currently a 3rd Year student at CDW Studios /Flinders University.

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Born from a love of the genre and Dungeons and Dragons, more specifically how to break both, The Tales of Ǫnd is a love letter to an era of light-hearted and silly Fantasy made famous by authors such as Sir Terry Pratchett The Tales of Ǫnd is an open-world Action RPG with a focus on exploration, discovery, and narrative. No good story comes without a fight and protecting the people of the islands of Istir will not come without blood, sweat and tears. Seek out the Gods and restore balance to a world falling into chaos… or don’t I’m not your mother.

Over the course of a Semester I wanted to explore how to adapt my Dungeons & Dragons tabletop setting into a fully formed AAA Action RPG. This is the combination of Art and Research I conducted and I hope to one day find enough funding and people-power to craft in earnest. This research and development is further explored in my design document; a copy of Chris Taylor's Game Design Document with a starting version totalling 80pages and a wordcount over 15,000.

The world of Ǫnd has but a few large landmasses and countries but the focus of this title is the group of islands collectively known as Istir. It consists of two half islands Hjem and Ydin as well as an archipelago known as the Rusuma Isles. It can be said if one is patient enough and carried enough supplies it is possible to walk from one end of Istir to the other in a Month. There are horses and carriages that will quicken the journey but then the medal for ‘Best Walker’ would go to the Horse you rode on.

Our story takes place across this group of islands, to the half-planes of the Fell and Fey and possibly beyond. Each landmass is split into Holds governed by the Jarl, who alongside their  Magus report to the King. Set in the equivalent 13th to 14th century BC this game will span approximately an in-game year as the player uncovers, explores, and eventually thwarts the plans of the antagonist.

Tales of Ǫnd will be divided into teams based on these geographical borders within the game world. Because these locations share a common people and overall cultural theme this will allow for more module-based design. Colour coded for clarity in both in-world lore and external development. 

 Having a sense of direction in a game made to explore is an absolute necessity- but in RPG and open sandbox style games it can be hard to wilfully get lost with live mini-maps, glowing objective trails and world maps that come across more like a checklist than a guide to explore. Taking inspiration from Team Cherry’s ‘Hollow Knight’ the setup of the map system will be structured yet free enough to allow for exploration, but with the staple RPG location guides as optional settings. 

Players will control a singular hero. Playing entirely single player there is an option to recruit other adventurers into the party, through favours, quests, and dialogue. These pre-generated NPCs will be scattered throughout the world and it’s up to the player to recruit them. In combat like Capcom’s Dragons Dogma: Dark Arisen players can call out tactics to influence AI behaviour. This also comes with other customizable options to be more or less aggressive, to equip NPCs with gear and other non-directional control.

 Character customization will come with all the usual features. As much as mechanically possible there will be no gendered options. The options presented in Larian Studio’s Baldur’s Gate are a perfect example which we will take on - A fraction of the choices will be presented in the character menu to give the player a better idea of what is common (i.e. Human colours for humans, greens and browns for Orcs and Elves, Greys, Blues and Reds for Roda) But under a tick box labelled something like “Show All” all options will be given.

In saying so there will be great care given to several hairstyles, beard styles and makeups/tattoos. Since there will be close up dialogue scenes there will be ample time for players to get to know their character and as such, they should be able to customise them freely. To allow for gradual and prolonged character changes there will be an emphasis on customisation after the 'Character Creation' screen with  Shops. 

In the beginning customisation may have … 10 hairstyles, a few short, a few long, some tied up. But a full range of permanent features such as eyes and skin-colour. Later players can visit tattoo shops, hairdressers, and all manner of merchants to change their appearance - This is also where we can add DLC, Optional Extras and increases in visual customization after working on more priority sections. Players will have the organic experience of changing not just gear but their personal appearance as they grow in strength and earn more money, yet another place players can spend all that hard earned loot. 

Tales of Ǫnd won’t feature ultra-high-poly assets. Taking inspiration from games past is not just about what gameplay elements they had and themes they explored but their clunky charm of the slightly choppy, slightly stiff aspects of the titles that braved a PlayStation 3 or Xbox360 release. This will need to be discussed further with a 3D team, texture, and animation artists to determine its viability as a whole system. 

The best User Interface is one that does its job without being seen or heard- Display information to the player clearly and quickly. In Tales of Ǫnd the player will interact most with the example pictured. A diegetic UI based around a notebook. Whether this be integrated into the story or not, is unclear, but all character progress will be recorded in this singular place.

Post Edit: Settings will be added to the Non-Diegetic Pause Menu and replaced with Codex. In the Codex will be a log of all text-based collections. Unlike the Bestiary which has techniques and items to help defeat the worlds enemies, the Codex keeps track of all Characters, Tutorials and Guides- Anything the player might want to refresh themselves with if they have put down the game for a length of time. The Pause Menu will hold the most critical information such as Save/Load, Quick-save and Resume/Exit.

It's nigh on impossible to have a game without items, almost certainly if it’s an RPG. Items encompass everything that isn’t written, isn’t a weapon or isn’t equippable. Items are broken down into five categories: Components, Food, Utility, Quest Items and Miscellaneous. Weapons have five categories also:  Non-Weapon, Single-Handed, Two-Handed, Ranged and Mageic. Mageic, rather than Magic include weapons for mages such as orbs and staffs and wands rather than weapons who are inherently magical. Lastly items for the body are split into six: Head, Torso, Arms, Legs, Back and Vanity. 

Ǫnd runs on a single gold unit. While races have different trade policies anything deemed worth less than a gold can be traded. The value of this currency is determined by ale, which every year is checked and balanced. Mechanically this will be possible to set items to trade as well as sums of gold for equal value

These sections are expanded on more as theory in the technical document. I was unable to get a working prototype together in time, but there's always next year!

This is just the tip of the iceberg! I'm so glad to have had the time to work on this as part of my learning, having lecturers and students alike give their feedback - I extend this to you as well viewer! Please let me know below thoughts, constructive criticism or just to show your appreciated support. 

If you would like to know more about the mechanics, musical score, AI or any other of the elements mentioned here and more, but in greater detail I am happy to link a copy of the Design Document and discuss it further. 

Thank-you to my dedicated and very patient players who, after all this, are the luckiest guinea pigs to help start the first playtest of this world and to all the lecturers at CDW Studios and Flinders University who I bugged incessantly to get this Version 0.1 off the ground.  Thank-you all!

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