Video game RPGs owe much of their DNA from the classic tabletop RPG. Despite Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition catapulting the tabletop RPG into mainstream popularity, there’s been a stark lack of officially licensed D&D video games in recent years. Indie studio Tactical Adventures hopes to change that with Solasta: Crown of the Magister.
“We’ve been a big fan of tabletop RPGs for 30 years,” says Mathieu Girard, CEO and creative director at Tactical Adventures. “We have a D&D campaign running every week – currently playing Descent Into Avernus. Making a D&D RPG is a passion project for us.”
Girard previously co-founded Amplitude Studios, creators of the excellent Endless strategy series, before founding Tactical Adventures in 2018. In the fall of 2019, Tactical Adventures brought their concept for Solasta to Kickstarter, successfully raising over $275,000 from nearly 6,000 backers.
A major selling point for Solasta is that it’s based on the Systems Reference Document from D&D. Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition has a special Open Gaming License that allows other creators and companies to use the basic ruleset for their own games and supplements. The SRD includes all the races, classes, magic items, and most of the monsters from D&D 5E, but does not include any of the official settings, characters, or trademark foes.
Solasta will feature a completely original fantasy world, but with the familiar Tolkein-inspired D&D races of humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings. Solasta will include original lore-specific sub-races like Snow Dwarves and Island Halflings, but doesn’t have the more exotic races like tieflings and dragonborn.
D&D veterans will feel right at home when creating a four-person party of characters, including rolling for STR, DEX, CON, etc, and choosing Race, Class, Background, and starting equipment. Currently Solasta only features six of the 12 D&D classes: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard, with a seventh class, Sorcerer, coming as launch day DLC. “We’re a small team, 17-person studio,” says Girard. “Everyone is a veteran and works wonders, but we wanted to focus on six classes for now.” The team hopes to add the remaining classes in the future.
One of the most intriguing elements of character creation are the Personality Flags. These traits are derived from the character’s Background and Alignment, which are often shoved to the back or forgotten altogether once the dice starts rolling. A character’s Background could be an Aristocrat, Lowlife, or Spy, along with the classic D&D alignment system, like Lawful Good or Chaotic Neutral.
Each Background and alignment includes four personality traits, like Lawfulness, Greed, and Kindness. Players choose two from each to form their character’s overall personality. “The Personality Flags define how your character acts during cutscenes and narration, as well as dialogue choices when interacting with NPCs,” says Girard. “We didn’t want a binary system.” A Philosopher could choose Cynicism and Kindness, while selecting Neutral Good can add Altruism and a second Kindness flag, resulting in a very formal, self-less personality.
Having unique dialogue choices based on your chosen personality is a nice reflection of role-paying in D&D. Solasta takes it a step further by providing fully voiced characters for each of the four customizable party members that we’ll be creating at the beginning of the game. The result is a wonderfully immersive intro that features each of my custom party members bantering with one another, from the stuffy elf to the surly halfling.
During the intro each character regales their scenario prior to joining the party. “We wanted to avoid boring tutorial boot camps that involve shooting crates and rats,” says Girard. “Instead the tutorial is an origin story for each of your characters of the party.” These mini-tutorials show off the lighting and verticality in the level design, as well as the turn-based tactical combat, which includes Attacks of Opportunity and using Actions, Bonus Actions, and Reactions.
The game doesn’t know if the player is going to create a party of all wizards – or no wizards at all, however. “It’s impossible for us to have specific tutorials on wizard spells, because we’re not sure the player is going to have a wizard,” says Girard. Instead the tutorials cover important mechanics like jumping over chasms, knocking down walls, and sneaking past enemies.
“Verticality is a big thing in our game,” says Girard. “We use a cubic world simulation like Minecraft, which simulates elevation and can be dynamically modified.” A pillar can be pushed over a gap to create a bridge, and a loose wall could be brought down on an unsuspecting enemy. Flying enemies can remain out of reach, forcing party members to use spells and ranged attacks. “It’s a big plus when we can be as faithful as possible to the original rules,” says Girard.
Solasta will feature most of the same rules as 5E, including combat, stealth, and resting. One deviation is with initiative – the order in which players and monsters move in combat. In the tabletop RPG, all monsters of the same type, such as goblins or wolves, roll one group initiative and act together. Solasta will include group initiatives as an option, but you can also play with individual initiatives, resulting in a turn-order queue that’s more familiar to tactical video games. “It’s easy for a computer to handle individual initiatives, and I love the increased randomness it brings to combat,” says Girard. “We’re working with our community to determine which option should be the default for us.”
Though Tactical Adventures released a limited demo earlier this Spring on Steam, the game is still in pre-Alpha development. “All the game systems are built, along with a fraction of the campaign,” says Girard. “The hardest work is done. Now we’re just creating cool content.” That cool content includes a main campaign around 25 hours long, plus an additional 10-15 hours of side quests, which should bring the party up to the level cap of 10. The max level in D&D 5e is 20, though most officially published campaigns don’t extend beyond the low teens.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister’s scope may be somewhat limited compared to a true D&D tabletop RPG campaign, but the potential of a single player tactical adventure that uses the official 5E rules is hugely appealing for D&D fans like myself, and I look forward to exploring this new world.
Solasta: Crown of the Magister is coming to PC (Steam) in 2021.