Archive for September, 2012

Hmm… what’s this?

Arthur claims a sword from the Lady of the Lake: the magical “cut-steel”, Excalibur.  Bilbo burgles a simple golden ring, whose magic will change the face of Middle-Earth.

What are we talking about?  The glint of treasure:  finding items on your quests.

Treasure is one of the oldest traditions in the fantasy genre and, with it, of RPGs.  From 1st Edition AD&D’s extensive random treasure tables, all the way to World of Warcraft’s set items, crafting, and party treasure divvying options, loot has been a major component of the fantasy RPG experience from the get-go.  And so Conclave’s lack of found items stands out like something of a sore thumb.

After the Kickstarter, we plan to finally add found treasure to Conclave.  However, we will be doing it in our own way, reflective of our goals for the overall Conclave game experience.

1.  There won’t be lots of it.

Many RPGs hand out tons and tons of loot, most of it junk.  They provide so much of it, in fact, that they have to provide ever-bigger backpacks and stashes, hotkeys for rapid selling, color-coded rarities, even pets that can be ordered back to town to do your treasure-selling for you.

For a realtime RPG, this can be a good approach.  If, in your game, players are offing monsters fast enough to measure the results in KPM (Kills Per Minute – if not Per Second), then you have a lot of opportunities to drop treasure if you see fit.  Indeed, you can make loot collection one of the primary purposes of your game.

Conclave operates on a different time scale, more deliberate and drawn out; for some parties, a combat may take a week or more to complete.  We also shoot for a more realistic approach to the existence of treasure in the world:  our hob raiders are not treasure piñatas, ready to burst into piles of kneesocks of bravery and +5 armored pantaloons of volcanic wading.  For both these reasons, we don’t expect to be dropping items left and right.

Instead, finding treasure should feel special and unusual in Conclave, like it does in a good genre movie or book.  This is not to say that we want to leave you feeling deprived, starved for treasure, just that it shouldn’t either be an everyday occurrence in your characters’ lives.  It also means you shouldn’t be carting around boatloads of it to sell at some fictional shop with bottomless coffers.

2.  Make treasure fit your characters’ needs.

What happens in a game when a party finds a valuable item, and it’s not really right for anybody in the party?

First, the party has to spend time figuring that out in the first place.  This takes time.  Then they need to find somebody to whom to sell or trade the item.  After that, they have to figure out what to do with the cash or item that they received.  Do they share the cash?  Create a party stash?  If they receive another item, who gets that?  And so on.

What happens in a game when the party finds a valuable item, and it’s useful for more than one character?  Now we get into the wonderful world of divvying up treasure, and trying to make sure that everybody feels like they got an equal share of what was found (which almost never happens).

With Conclave, we want to try something different, which is to make sure that characters get items that are pretty obviously good for them.  We don’t want you to have to spend aggravating time arguing over who gets what, or trying to figure out what do with an item nobody wants.  Will this be as realistic as giving players awkward treasures?  No – but realism is not the only thing we are going for.  We also want you to feel excited about the direction your characters’ equipment is going, to feel like it is part of the story, and not feel either like it’s something you must worry about overmuch.

3.  Managing treasure won’t become a primary activity.

Ultimately, we don’t want Conclave to be all about the treasure.  There are plenty of other games that do a great job of making treasure the focus of play.  With Conclave, however, we are aiming for a distilled approach to the whole tabletop roleplaying experience.  We want to deliver you the best of tactical combat, the best of group decisions, the best of storytelling, the best of socialization – and the best of treasure.  In each case, we give you a focused version of the experience, and one that does not require you to devote more time to it than you need to.  This is part of how we keep Conclave flexible, and convenient, a game you can play any time and any place you want.

By making treasure both unusual and well-tailored to the characters in your party, we distill the treasure experience in the game to its fun essentials, and avoid wasting your time.  When you receive an item, you’ll know it’s worth paying attention to.  You may or may not make use of it; that’s fine.  But you know you won’t be bothered with supposed “treasure” that is ultimately just dross.

We’re intentionally staying away from more specifics in this post.  We want to save some surprises, and still have a number of details to work out for ourselves.  But we hope this exploration gives you a sense of the philosophy we are applying to the presence of treasure in Conclave, and how it fits into our larger goals for the game.

If your party likes to play Conclave together at the same time, you’ve probably encountered the most dreaded foe of all:

Another player has acted!

We hate this message, too.

The game displays this message whenever you submit a combat action after another player has acted but before the game has updated your view of the combat to reflect it. Since you might want to change your action based on the result of the previous action, the game cancels the action you submitted and gives you a chance to redo it after updating your view.

This definitely isn’t ideal: your action might still be what you want to do, and in any case it’s just plain annoying to be interrupted. We’ve done a lot of work to make the game run smoothly when you’re playing asynchronously, and one of our priorities is to make similar improvements to realtime play; a big part of that is reducing the number of times you see the “Another player has acted” message.

We’re tackling the problem in two ways. First, we’re making some changes that will reduce the amount of time between one player submitting an action and another player seeing it. That will reduce the window of time in which submitting an action will trigger a conflict and cause you to be interrupted by the message. As a bonus, these changes will reduce the time it takes for chat messages to appear after they’re sent; realtime conversations will feel a bit more … well, realtime afterward. (For those of you curious about the technical details, we’ll be switching from the simple “pull” approach of periodic AJAX polling to a more efficient “push” approach where we maintain a persistent connection and send updates as they occur.)

The second way we plan to tackle the problem is by indicating when other players are online and in the process of taking action. Many chat programs will tell you when a person you’re chatting has started typing, which lets you know that you might want to wait until he or she has had a chance to finish. We’ll do something similar, but for action-taking.

Between the two, we think you’ll see a lot less of the “Another player has acted” message, and the game will be more responsive to boot.

Developer Diary: Character Customization

One of the major features we will be adding if our Kickstarter is funded is character customization.  Today, I’ll be looking in detail at what that means, and the new options you’ll be afforded once we’ve developed this feature.

When you level a character in Conclave, you get some mix of the following benefits:

  • A new ability
  • More skill points
  • A new trait point
  • More Health

In the beta, you have no control of any of these:  every character follows a preset path that is determined wholly by your archetype.  For example, all level 2 Vanguards get +7 to Bludgeon, +3 to Tactics, and gain the Persevere skill.  Once character customization is in place, however, you’ll have options with ability choice, skill point assignment, and trait point assignment.

Finishing Blow

Will your Rogue choose this at Stealth 30?

The most important of these is ability choice, because Conclave’s combat is so heavily ability-driven.  Sure, your various stats matter, but their effect is subtle, behind-the-scenes.  Abilities are what define what you can do, and take front stage because you select from them over and over.  Put another way, abilities are much of what create characters’ identities in combat.  And today, those identities are pretty narrow.  All Runecasters focus on damaging, ranged magic, with a touch of protective buffing.  All Rogues rely on striking vulnerable foes in melee.  And so on.

This will still be true for 1st level characters once customization is in place.  Every Rogue will still start out being able to go Into the Shadows and Dash about.  But as characters level up, they’ll grow more and more divergent, exploring a larger ability space defined by their skill point allocations and their player’s interests.  We are really excited about this, as we’ve never meant for your archetype to be a railroad for character development – that was just a necessary expediency during the beta.  In the future, you’ll see Vanguards who are shield masters, and those who are battlefield tacticians; Beacons who are true masters of the polearm, and others who are focused on inspirational healing; Rogues who love dirty tricks, alongside Rogues who are dueling experts; True Bows finding perfect clarity in the magic of True Sight, or with a battery of trick and utility shots; Runecasters who manipulate terrain, or use Lore to uncover the secrets of their foes.

As you level, you’ll be able to select from a variety of different abilities to add to your character.  We have at least twice as many abilities defined for characters as are actually available within the game currently – and that’s just for characters levels one to five.  Once character customization is open, all those abilities will be available to you.  However, most have specific requirements that your character must first meet before you can access them.  The majority of these are skill-based:  you’ll need a Bludgeon score of 15 to access Sweeping Blow, for example, or a Lore of 30 to choose the new Secrets of Mortality.  Others have trait requirements (e.g., Agility 8 is needed for Twin Strike), and still others require that you already have some other ability (e.g., the new Gale needs both Air Rune and Runecasting 20).

I’ll leave you with a few abilities that might make their way into the final version of the game, though no doubt they will be tweaked after playtesting; I hope these inspire you to think about new directions your Conclave characters could take in the future:


Rippling Earth

Requires Earth Rune, Runecasting 20

Major action

All squares in a 5-square line emanating from you become rough terrain.  Check your Runecasting against the Agility of each combatant in those squares.  If you succeed, the combatant takes 5-7 bludgeoning damage.


Part the Veil

Requires True Sight 20

Minor action

All unnoticed foes within three squares are revealed and become dazed.


Battle Rage

Requires Fortitude 7

Minor action

You become enraged.  You must be at least lightly wounded to use this ability.



Requires Light Blade 20

Minor action

Until the beginning of the next round, if an adjacent foe attacks you, make a free attack with your weapon on that foe.



Requires Persuasion 20

Major action

All inspired allies recharge a random ability.

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