Monday 26th June 2017,
XP4T Brave.Bold.Banter.

Conclave – The Future of Turn Based RPGs

Most of us roleplaying gamers remember the days when we sat around a table in a musky basement playing pen-and-paper adventure games with friends. Rolling the dice, adopting a unique personality, being terrorized by the game master – all things which ended as soon as life began to catch up.

One friend moved across the world, others became too busy, kids came into the picture, all things which made it impossible to gather up for some proper pen and paper gaming.

10×10 Room developers think they found the solution to the problem. Many online games would like to consider themselves Role Playing Games, unfortunately for the old school pen and paper crowd they often don’t come close. The new HTML5 browser game called “Conclave” aims to throw you back into the basement with a turn based fantasy role playing game which allows you to play with your friends – wherever they might be.

The starter quest of Conclave stems from the nostalgic “you’re sitting in a pub, when…” premise which anyone who ever read a pen and paper adventure book will love. The game master of Conclave is  the narrator of the story, telling you what you see and what your options are.

Your choices will vary depending on your skills and character class, and you have some influence on how the story develops as the quest progresses. There is a nifty party option which allows players to vote on a decision – e.g. path to take, who to approach, what to say – and the option with the most votes is the one which is given to the game master.

Battles are done on a grid similar to what you might find in a Dungeon and Dragons map. You get one minor and one major action per turn, these will change depending on the range of your opponents or allies.

Players can enter and leave parties at anytime. If you need help from other players you can create a party listing and wait until a player on the same quest joins you. Once together, you can play as quickly, or slowly, as you wish. As the game is turned base, there is no need for all players to be online at the same time.

If waiting is not really your thing, you have the option of creating 9 characters and switch between these different adventures at any time. Allowing you to pretty much always have something to do.

We had a chance to sit down with the developers of Conclave, here is what they had to say!

XP4T: Currently the character customization is somewhat lacking in details (skill distribution, choosing abilities, and so on). How would you like to see this expanded?

Nick Branstator: As it happens, we made a recent blog post on just this subject, which you can find here.

As you can see from that article, we consider ability selection to be the most important part of character customization, as abilities drive so much of the the action in combat, and are the aspects of your character that you as a player interact most with.  They are also the most visible expression of your character to your allies.

Because most abilities are dependent on skills, and your skills are dependent on your archetype, archetype serves as an important shorthand identification for both the owner of a character, and the character’s allies:  even with character customization in place, I’ll have a decent understanding of the capabilities of any level 5 Beacon that joins my party.  (This is hardly unique to Conclave – so many MMOs and RPGs follow the same pattern – but it’s one we consciously followed because it has a lot of benefits.)

XP4T: You mention better graphics in your kickstarter as a goal for the game. Which part do you think could use the most work, or which area will you focus on first?

Nick Branstator: Combat animations, and the graphics associated with them, are probably going to be our first focus.  Swords should swing, fire blasts should whoosh across the battlefield, and combatants should move from square to square, all complemented by sound effects. Combat animations should not only dramatically improve the immersive experience of the game, but also deliver information more readily to players about what’s going on.  This is particularly important in a game like ours that’s often played asynchronously:  if you return to the game and ten different combatants have taken actions in combat, you want a quick way to absorb all that information about what’s changed on the battlefield and how it came to pass.  Animations will be a major step up from the way we deliver event updates now.

A couple of other graphical improvements we have planned include:
* Better “chrome” for the web site and controls.  Our look right now is functional and clean, but only minorly flavorful; there’s more we can do here to create immersion.
* Animated elements on the battlemaps themselves:  bubbling pools, illuminating lights, etc.  We’ve already done significant work separating battlemaps out into multiple layers, and now need to take full advantage of this to create some new kinds of effects.

XP4T: What made you go for HTML5? Have you thought of making it a facebook implemented game considering the social aspect?

 Nick Branstator: We chose HTML5 because we wanted the game to be browser-based, and didn’t want Flash keeping us off of iOS browsers.  Why the browser?  Because it’s the closest thing to a ubiquitous client.  We wanted people to be able to check into Conclave from whatever device they happen to have in front of them at any given time, be it a dekstop, a tablet, or a smartphone.  It’s very common for our players to go from device to device throughout the day, playing in the same game of Conclave as they switch around.  HTML5 has worked well for us; there are times when we wish for some cross-browser feature that we’d have access to if we were using Flash, but these occurrences are surprisingly rare.

Conclave already integrates with Facebook as a way to invite friends to join you on parties.  We’ve considered a deeper integration, but Facebook’s push to use their purchasing system, and the limits it imposes on screen real estate, are significant drawbacks.  Additionally, Facebook’s no longer seems like a great way to discover games.  As a result, we’ve lowered the priority of an in-Facebook integration.  Native client versions of Conclave for iOS and Android are more important to us, largely to take advantage of the great notification mechanisms built into those platforms.

XP4T:  Where did you get inspiration for the story? Who writes the quests?

Nick Branstator: The quests are a collaboration between us.  Usually, one of us will take the lead on any single quest, but the other person is heavily involved, whether in making suggestions or providing editorial oversight.

Regarding our inspiration, here’s something from Derek:

“When we were brainstorming ideas for the world at the very start of the project, we were influenced by a few factors.  One is that we wanted there to be plenty of places that would be unfamiliar to the characters in the story; at the same time, we didn’t want the world to be a total wilderness, either.  Another is that we wanted the heroes — the players’ characters — to truly be unusual and not just members of a widespread adventuring class as in some RPG worlds.

Of the half-dozen settings we tossed around, the Conclave fit those desires best.  I think the original inspiration for it was this question: What would the inverse of Mordor look like?  Instead of an evil realm surrounded by mostly decent places (and the occasional necromancer’s tower or dragon’s lair), what if civilization had largely withdrawn to a single land?  Of course the lines aren’t always clear-cut; the Wilderkin of Kzauth, the Crooked City, would and do protest loudly at being labeled uncivilized, for example.

The setting also allows us to explore the theme of a dark age, of people losing their dreams and ambitions.  The Conclave is a magical place, yet it’s also one where most folks have hunkered down and accepted a constrained and limited view of its potential.  The players represent those who haven’t abandoned the idea that the world can be improved.

We created the original races of the Kin because we want the setting to feel classic but not stereotypical.  If your world has dwarves and elves, you’re introducing certain expectations for how they’re going to behave; you can mix those up, and sometimes it’s fun to do that, but you have to spend time fighting those expectations.  We also don’t want players to feel too constrained by their choice of race; the Kin might have certain tendencies, but that’s all they are.  We created five races because five is an important number in Conclave: there are five basic traits, five great Traditions of magic, and (currently) five archetypes.

We drew upon both modern and mythical sources for the names and characteristics of the races.  The nix and trow are derived from folklore, though both races diverge from their mythical counterparts.  The forgeborn were inspired by the fire giants of Norse mythology, with a few dwarven characteristics as well.  The mezoar are a twist on the reptilian races that appear in some other fantasy games, wise and chameleonic rather than primitive or draconic.  The lumyn don’t have a direct inspiration, though they were likely influenced by Neil Gaiman’s story ‘The Heart of the Star’, Magic: The Gathering’s moonfolk, and the dualism of elves and drow in D&D.”

XP4T: A major change from traditional RPG is the use of Renown instead of coins to purchase items. Why this decision and how does it affect gameplay?

Nick Branstator: One reason is flavor.  The characters are completing quests on behalf of the Conclave, and it only makes sense that its leaders would offer them what assistance they can spare.  Many of the characters are also motivated more by a sense of duty than a desire for plunder.  Also, gold demands stores, and so many of the stores in RPGs feel ridiculous:  why does this merchant have all these amazing items, and why is he or she a shopkeep in the first place?

Another is that Renown can be utilized in different ways from gold.  Right now, you only use it to access items from the Vault of Arms, but you can probably imagine other uses for it:  a quest might only be available to you if you have achieved enough Renown, or an NPC might treat you differently when you meet them next.

Mechanically, Renown avoids some of the problems of currency economies.  For example, we don’t have to worry about a player buying an item that’s not great for his or her character, realizing it’s not great, and losing money when it’s sold back, ending up with a less powerful character as a result.  That’s not a fun experience for the player, and it makes it more difficult to balance our quests by creating the potential for a lot of variance in character power at any given character level.  With Renown, players can try out items freely, seeing what suits them best.

 XP4T:  Tell us a bit more about Zombie mode and what happens when teammates are offline.

Nick Branstator: Right now, when a player fails to respond within 24 hours, that player’s character simply defends itself, using the Defensive Posture and Recover actions.  We chose this route because we felt any attempt at a more sophisticated AI was likely to backfire, leading a character into situations neither he/she nor the party really wants; if you sit there, defend yourself, and heal a bit, you may not be contributing, but at least you are not hurting anybody.  That said, we have contemplated giving players the option to set different default actions for their characters, and/or allowing a teammate to take a turn for a character that would otherwise zombie.  Parties also have the option of turning off the 24 hour “ticker”, which is most commonly used when somebody in the party goes on vacation.

If you take an action while another party member is offline, that player will see an update on your action when he or she returns to the game.  Additionally, if your action ended the round, then everybody who is not currently online will receive an email notification that the round completed, that there’s new action to review, and that they can come back and take new actions.  Players who don’t like email notifications can switch them off at any time.

For more information on the game, visit the developer’s page here.
There are only a few day left to help make this great game a reality, so check out their kickstarter page and pledge!  Still not convinced? Try their open beta here, and then pledge.

About The Author

Full time mother and gamer - I spend my free time split between family, pen and paper RPGs and eSports MOBAs. At least when I'm not writing or raging on social media.

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