Impressions: Serving Conclave

Always wanted to play D&D without the complexities of a twenty-sided die or the awkwardness of role-playing face-to-face with your friends? Maybe you’re just tired of having to deal with a lackluster human Dungeon/Game Master who can’t appreciate your immersion? Or maybe you just can’t wait for the other players to finish their turns, people who seemingly take as long as an entire galaxy’s lifespan in some other dimension.

Whatever your excuse, if you’re wanting to experience a co-operative tabletop game with all the conveniences of modern technology, then indie development studio 10×10 Room may just have the thing for you with their browser-based RPG, Conclave. If you’re wanting a comparison to recent game, then an easy one would be Hero Academy. But do read on!

Set in the epic fantasy world of Orn, the collective races known as Kin are caught in an Age of Retreat and have lost their grip on all realms but one: Conclave. You and three others play the role of heroes who come to the Council’s aid, called to action “by your dreams”. Choosing one out of five archetypes you then set off on your adventure, unlocking more quests as you find yourself unraveling mysteries and facing off against a myriad of fantastical foes just waiting to cavort merrily around your dead bodies.

Each archetype presents you with a different set of abilities and play-styles; they’re all fixed so you can’t choose from a pool of available skills. Pick a name, select your race and gender and you’re immediately tossed into the world map screen. If you don’t like what you’ve made, you can always go back to your profile page and create another character, up to a total of ten. Take your time reading through all the text that are in the blue — they’re hyperlinks and a short description with accompanying flavor text await!

Don’t expect to be looking at a new map screen anytime soon. This is, after all, the last civilized realm and there are plenty of quests within walking distance for you to undertake. The map screen is also where you do most of your non-adventuring, such as finding a party or refitting your character back at the Bastion.

The game doesn’t have a Friends or Contacts section and that’s perfectly alright as each game session is a private instance, meaning you will never come across any strangers. Instead, you can either directly invite others into your party, join someone else’s or make your own session public and hope somebody responds, very much like posting on a dating site but infinitely less depressing.

The first will present you with three options to extend your invitations: Facebook, Email or a singing telegram direct Link. Send as many as you like but only the first three to respond will get a slot. If you have no friends *sadface* then you’ll have to click on ‘Find a Party’ which will bring you to the Adventurer’s Hall. There you can publicly list your game and indicate both your playing pace as well as your time zone. Scrolling down you’ll see a list of public games for you to join with information such as the current quest, players and their levels. You can play alone of course but frankly, why would you?

Ah, loot. No self-respecting RPG wouldn’t have loot implemented in one form or another. Conclave has neither item drops nor gold, choosing instead to reward you with renown upon successful completion of a quest, usually 100 each. I’m not entirely sure how that fits into a role-play, but hey whatever. The first set of items you have access to cost 125 renown each, followed by items worth 200, 500, so on and so forth. You’ll have to juggle between weapons, off-hands and armor, with the better ones imbued with all sorts of passives. There’s no reason to save up your renown because you can just unequip the item you’re replacing and have its value refunded.

No 3D environments for you to be running around-in. Select a quest on a map and the story begins via text, so use your imagination! I’m not going to reveal anything but 10X10 Room have done a good job of creating a fantasy setting that’s familiar yet with suitably unique elements that they can call it their own. There are story choices along the way, some with Skill or Stat requirements. I experimented around a little and they do make a difference, so don’t write them off just yet. Every player gets to vote during these parts and if there isn’t a clear decision, the game will randomly decide between the options selected.

If you invest yourself in the narrative, you’ll soon find yourself itching to get down to the matter of things and facing off against a greater evil. The story is also set-up in such a way that there’s plenty of room for new content and expansions, something that I’ll bring up later on.

Time for the meat of it: combat. I mentioned Hero Academy earlier; if you’ve played that or Words With Friends then you’d already be familiar with the “on-the-go” model of gameplay. Simply put, once you’re done with all your available actions, you’re free to wander off in the real world and do your own thing. The game will display a tab notification once something happens and this little devious cycle of turns will continue for as long as you please. Say goodbye to productivity because I know I lost four hours. I swear: turn-based games made a deal with the time-space devil in exchange for widespread popularity…

I must mention, however, that you don’t necessarily have to wait for one player to complete all their actions. Any player may move and attack in any order which does make for more tactically interesting combat. Unfortunately it does suffer from a dreaded “Another player has already acted!” pop-up message when everyone’s trying to do something, an issue the developers are aware of. Difficulty scales accordingly to 1-2 players and 3-4.

Since Conclave is built on HTML5, you’re free to play it on any browser you wish, and do they mean any. Desktops or smartphones, bring the game with you wherever you want! I haven’t tried it on my mobile and honestly have no plans to do so since the idea of mobile games makes me a little sick; I’d rather be reading.

Each character is presented with two action phases: one minor and another major. Either you move or select from a series of abilities whose conditions you currently meet. If a special attack requires you to be in stealth and you’re not… yeah, not gonna’ happen. Aside from your regular physical and magical attacks, there are a few positive and negative conditions you may inflict upon your enemies. Naturally the same may be done to you, so keep track of them when considering your next move. Whenever any character is under the effects of a condition, an icon is listed in their portrait; clicking on that icon will bring up a small pop-up description of its effects, very handy when there’s more than one you have to deal with. You may also refer to the game’s reference page, which addresses most of your combat-related questions.

If it isn’t obvious by now, the artwork is gorgeous. The paintings are all reminiscent of those found on tabletop and card games, also managing to portray the fact that things are pretty grim in the world now. You know, down to the last stronghold and all. There isn’t sound effects and rightfully so — imagine hearing all that in the background all day. As for music, however…

Conclave is currently in open beta and are running a Kickstarter project to finish development. The $75,000 funding will go to a couple of features, including music by Sam Hulick, who also composed for Mass Effect! There are stretch goals of course and they sound incredibly exciting, from expansion content to a whole open-ended adventure mode. I’d love for a DM toolkit for players to craft their own campaigns but I’m going to guess that won’t be easy to do, with server-side content and all.

As of writing, over $34,000 has been pledged with 6 days left to go. You should definitely check out their Kickstarter page because this post just won’t do justice to the amount of information available there.

So what are you waiting for? Check the game out for yourself and spread the word so your friends can join in too! Here: register an account and start playing.

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