Anton Wegenast caught up with the co-founders to discuss Conclave
The RPG genre has its roots in the classic tabletop games with dice and paper. Some may have fond memories of spending time around a table with friends as they explore a new realm, and defeat some foul monster amidst rolls of a die. Then life happens, and you aren’t able to get the gang together for such long periods of time. The team over at 10×10 Room feel your pain, and they’re developing a game to fix the problem. Their project is called Conclave and it has a Kickstarter project running right now, trying to get their ambitious vision realized. I interviewed 10×10 Room co-founders Nick Branstator and Derek Bruneau to get a bit of the backstory, and future plans for Conclave.
Want to know what a successful Kickstarter could do for the game? Check out the second part of the interview over here!
P2R: You say in your KS pitch that you couldn’t find an RPG that suited all the features you wanted. What exactly are the criteria you sought to fill with Conclave?
Derek: We were looking for a game we could play with our friends that could accommodate our time constraints without completely sacrificing depth in its story or gameplay. There are some great multiplayer online RPGs out there, but they pretty much all demand that you schedule major blocks of time to make progress. On the flip side, there are casual games that don’t take a lot of time but lack the deeper story, cooperative combat, and group decision-making we enjoy.
P2R: What are some of the sources that inspired the world of Conclave?
Derek: In general terms, the world was inspired by this question: what would the inverse of Mordor look like? Instead of an evil realm surrounded mostly by decent places — notwithstanding the occasional necromancer’s tower or dragon’s lair — what if civilization had largely withdrawn to a single land? Of course the lines in Conclave aren’t always clear-cut; the Wilderkin of Kzauth, the Crooked City, would and do protest loudly at being labeled uncivilized, for example.
Other aspects of the world were inspired more obliquely by authors like Roger Zelazny, Neil Gaiman, and Iain Banks. Some of the classic D&D settings like the Forgotten Realms played a part, too.
P2R: What kind of learning curve does Conclave have? How would new RPG players fare?
Nick: We’ve tried very hard to make it easy to jump into Conclave. Character creation is intentionally simple: pick an archetype, a race, a name and a portrait, and you are ready to go; customization and equipment selection don’t come up until later. We also kept our early quests intentionally straightforward and relatively easy. That said, we are building on a lot of RPG conventions like character level, traits, skills, abilities, and a tactical battlemap; if you haven’t encountered any of these before, that is one more thing for you to learn. We also think we have some important work to do to make our basic system of resolving uncertain actions – an attempt to strike a foe with a sword, pick a lock, or set up a magical ward – more transparent to users. All that said, my stepdaughter learned to play Conclave when she was 9, having never played an RPG before, and she figured out the whole thing very quickly!
P2R: Say I’m an RPG veteran, what are some features that might set Conclave apart from other experiences I’ve had?
Nick: If you are a veteran of single-player computer RPGs, you’ll be amazed at how much deeper and fun the experience is when you are adventuring with real friends, cooperating on the field of battle and in making group decisions. If you are a tabletop RPGer, what you’ll appreciate most is the ability to play any time, any place. I’ll often take a turn in the morning from my desktop, then get an email on my iPhone later in the day letting me know that my quest has advanced, pop on from the phone, and catch up on the action and conversation while I’m on the go. Conclave has let me game with friends who live halfway around the world, and feel like we are still sharing that wonderful old tabletop experience.
P2R: One of the things that stands out about Conclave is the visual art. What can you tell us about the artists responsible?
Derek: We work with a couple of artists. Our portrait artist is Chris Rahn, who is probably best known for his work illustrating Magic: The Gathering cards. We sought him out both because we like his hand-painted style and because he manages to create images that are clearly fantastic yet somehow look plausible, and that matches the overall feel we’re aiming for in the game. He also has a knack for taking our descriptions and turning them into fully-realized characters.
The other artist we work with is Devin Night. He’s responsible for transforming Conclave’s creatures into tokens you can recognize at a small size; he also created the final version of its overland map. A long-time token artist, he’s contributed work to a variety of games and tools from companies like ProFantasy Software, TableTop Forge, and EN Publishing.
P2R: A big part of the tabletop RPG experience is the social side of things. How can gamers use Conclave to translate that aspect into the asynchronous or turn-based experience?
Nick: One of the most important parts of the Conclave interface is the perpetual party chat. Crucially, everything you type into the party chat window appears in real time for other players who are on at the same time as you, but is also saved so that the players who log on later see it as well. This system was one inspired by the ill-fated Google Wave project – a tool which had many issues, but was truly pioneering when it came to a mixed synchronous/asynchronous communications medium. Our perpetual party chat distills some of the learnings we got from Google Wave into a very simple communications tool.
We also designed Conclave to create as many social moments as possible. To succeed in many combats, you really need to talk to your party mates and come up with a good plan. Lots of abilities encourage teamwork: the Beacon’s “Lead By Example” is a lot more useful if used to inspire a group of nearby allies, the Runecaster’s “Tremor” can knock a foe off-balance so a nearby Rogue can land a “Telling Blow”, the Vanguard can “Shove” a dangerous foe away from a wounded ally, and so on. That leads to conversation. The same holds true for group decisions.
Of course, people also spend a lot of time in chat trash-talking, joking around, and chatting about their lives – just like when they play a tabletop game. We love that.
P2R: Can you explain how Conclave’s asynchronous turn structure works? Say I play with three others, but only two are online. What happens to the third? What do they see when they log in next time?
Nick: First, it’s important to know that there’s no turn order to player character actions in Conclave: if Achilles, Bia, and Circe are in a party together, any of them can act first, second, or third in combat. It’s just a matter of who logs on first, or chooses to act more quickly.
Let’s say Bia and Circe are online, in the middle of a battle, and each of them acts. Achilles will have received an email at the beginning of the turn, letting him know he can come online and play whenever he’s ready. Once he logs on, he’ll see the battlemap from the point at which he last logged on. He’ll then be able to advance through each event that took place after that point, seeing Bia and Circe take their respective actions. He can also backtrack and fast-forward, as well as being able to see what Bia and Circe have said in chat. So all the information about the current state of the battle, and of how it came to be that way, is at his fingertips.
P2R: Anything else you’d like to tease us with or reveal to our readers?
Nick: There’s a feature in one of the ten character portraits, visible in our gallery, upon which no player has yet commented. We’re a little surprised nobody has noticed it yet. It may be important.