Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
The Shandalar Project - Introduction

Back in 2004 I posted some ideas for a self-designed MMORPG. When I recently mentioned that old design again, I got a lot more positive echo than 4 years ago, which is mostly due to how much the readership has grown since then. And in the last open Sunday thread Paul suggested a cooperative approach to flesh the idea out a bit more. I think this is a brilliant plan, so I'm giving you The Shandalar Project.

Over the coming days I'm going to write about my ideas for the various parts and features of this imaginary MMORPG that I call Shandalar. The name is "borrowed" from the name of the world in a video game from 1997, Magic: The Gathering from Microprose. But I guess for a non-commercial venture and a hypothetical game I won't get into too much trouble with copyright. Your job is to come up with constructive criticism, improving and adding ideas to each part. Please try to stick generally to the direction I'm proposing, we'll get nowhere if you'll question each of my premises. If we want to make a card-based fantasy game together, it doesn't help if you prefer a SciFi shooter.

The basic concept of Shandalar is that it is a cross between MMORPG and trading card games, like Magic the Gathering. In the Microprose game, Shandalar was the name of a fantasy world which the player explored, battling the creatures he encountered by playing games of Magic against them. My Shandalar is a MMORPG with a classic 3D fantasy world, and the battles are graphically not unlike World of Warcraft, as I think that visual 3D crossing of swords is a lot more popular than playing cards. The cards you draw randomly from your deck replace the spells and abilities hotkeys you would have in World of Warcraft. So as every combat starts with a different random draw of "cards you can play", that is "buttons you can press", no two combats are the same, even if you fight the same kind of monster repeatedly. More on this in the cards and combat chapter in another post.

In the Shandalar game there are no levels, and no gear. Everything revolves around the cards, and you get better by building better decks with better cards. There aren't even character classes in the game, the color of the cards in your deck determine what class you are playing. That gets around nicely the problem of people wanting to respec or wanting to play a different class: You don't have to restart the game with another character, you just change your deck. This will also be discussed in the cards and combat chapter, as you can hardly discuss cards separately from combat, the two are too much entwined.

The business model of Shandalar is based on the old saying that "time is money". Classic MMOs like WoW have everyone pay the same, and then those players who spend the most time advance the furthest. Magic the Gathering has been accused of favoring those who spend the most money. Shandalar is trying to hit a compromise which gives you the best of both worlds: The game is free-to-download, and free-to-play, but you only get a very limited number of cards to start with. You can get more cards either by adventuring, or by buying booster packs of random cards, with 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 11 common cards, just like in Magic the Gathering. So if you don't have any money, you can get all your cards just by playing. But the profitability of the game (remember that developing and running MMORPGs costs money) depends on people wanting to take a shortcut and buying booster packs. And of course players will be able to trade cards among each other, with a trading system designed to eliminate RMT by only allowing symmetric trades. More on that in the trading chapter.

Even questing is all about the cards. Because not only are we all sick about the classic "kill 10 foozles" quest, some of us also realized that doing those isn't really a quest, it's just an errand you run for somebody else. A quest in Shandalar is a real quest, defined by Wikipedia as "a journey towards a goal, used in mythology and literature as a plot". It works like this: While killing monsters you don't get cards or gold as loot, you get points of different colors. You can buy cards with the points, but the places where you can do that are not in cities, they are in remote wilderness places. The rarer the card, the harder it is to get there. So a quest consists of you going to a sage in a city, who basically has a book showing all the cards in the game. You click on the card you want, and the sage tells you in what area of the world you can find that card. You travel to that area, and talk to NPCs, which give you more detailed directions. You fight your way through a cave full of monsters, arrive at some altar or relic, and there you can exchange your points for the card you wanted. No more killing 10 foozles for a farmer who rewards you with an item you can't use. Instead you quest because YOU want a specific card. We'll discuss questing further in the questing chapter.

I'd prefer if we could discuss cards and combat, trading, and questing, in their respective chapter. So I'd like to limit discussion in this thread about things like whether you like the idea, what other chapters we are going to need, and other general subjects. Please note that all the ideas you contribute go into the public domain, unless you patented them first. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever want to make Shandalar under this or another name. If somebody did, I'd be happy enough just to see my ideas realized and to be able to play that game, I wouldn't and couldn't demand payment for ideas I published without patenting them.
As posted in the earlier thread, i think the concept of combining mmog and ccg is interesting. (i would prefer my game in a lovecraftian setting though :D)

Also im curious a to what we all can come up with. Question is: do we want to come up with something that could actually be made into a game, or is it going to be a collection of *amazing*, but unfortunatly totally unfeasable ideas. My vote goes to the former. Of course i realize just like you that chances are this game of ours will never materialize, we should aim for something realistic.

With that in mind, i think we should pay special attention to the mechanics of battle specifically (in the designated chapter of course :) ). The innate randomness and turnbased qualitity to cardgames and how we manage to convert that to a fluent (real time-ish) battle should be addressed. But thats details for later.
The idea is definitely to go for something realistic, a game which could actually be made and attract lots of players. Which is why the business model is made for profit. Utopian games tend to have utopian methods of financing.
So no equipment. Thats bad, collecting is one of the major boosts players want in a game. Yes, you replaced it with your cards, but that element is totally random (booster) when you buy. IF you can get all cards through quests you can get through boosters your system will fail as powergamers will farm the popular cards and sell them to other players.

Combat only by random cards? Thats bad. People want predictable combat. Thats why bosses are so popular in WoW: people learn them and can beat them. Random factors are a no go, thats why Bliz has removed most of them from the Bosses. People love to learn the tactics and feel good by beating it. The problem is that from there combat is boring as the Boss never changes tactics which contradicts the learning behaviour of the players.

So how do you want to counter that problem?

Btw EA Phenomic is developing a Massive Online RTS (sort of) with playing cards and that system.
One question immediately struck me about your quest for cards approach with NPCs giving clues. How would you deal with web sites listing the exact locations?
Tobold, have you ever played Guild Wars?

'cause you are describing it. Only instead of cards you collect skills. Instead of random skills you only get to choose 8. Gear is only for looks and stats are almost non-existing.

You can even buy booster-packs for pvp.
Nice idea!

I agree with Sven, the quests have to be made spoiler-safe in some way.

Teut, the problem of randomness can be countered by constructing a specific deck in which you've got doubles, triples and quadruples of cards, making draws much more predictable. This is what happens in Magic: The Gathering.

My question is: what's so MM about this ORPG? The social aspect is arguably one of the strongest marketing aspects of MMORPGs, both in obtaining customers and in keeping them. This should probably be addressed.

In a similar vein: how will you ensure the longevity of the game? Will there be some sort of end-game, new editions of cards, or something else? Without character classes, the replayability of one toon is incredibly high. That leads to very little bonding with that character (people like things because they are special or unique), and also to a rather reduced playtime per customer. I don't want to be a total cynic here, but a realistic MMORPG project nowadays should be able to hold their customers for at least a year.
Some notes: I love the idea first of all.

On cards: Cards need to be able to be obtained without boosters. I feel that this game should be playable to endgame without buying a single booster, but you will not be optimized for it. Remember that the cash shop model is profitable, even when the things bought aren't needed.

On trading: A good way to encourage booster buying is simple: Quested cards are bind on pick up and can't be traded. All cards bought from boosters could be. The benefit is this stops people from farming awesome cards and filling the economy with them. The downside is it limits player interaction.

On endgame: What do you want it to be? This is a pretty important issue, you definitely want to discuss it at some point.

PvP? Group PvP? Large scale PvP?

On Gameplay: Will discuss more when you get to the gameplay chapter, but I am brimming with ideas. Probably a lot of ones you may not like, or at least hadn't thought of but we will see.

On Classes and Equipment: I think this is a bad idea, abolishing them as is. While I agree that the card format creates an environment where they aren't needed, they add a unique feeling to everyone. Everyone wants to be cool and unique. Classes can exist without being all encompassing. I'd imagine it would be best where your class determines your starting deck and gives you bonuses to certain things, but you could ignore it completely and play with any deck you wanted. It gives incentive to replay with a new character as well. Equipment doesn't need to influence a stat system, there are plenty of things that it can do without, once again, being all-encompassing. Idealy it would make you feel powerful and yet not give you any wins where you would've lost had you not had the equipment. Cards and tactics are king, not gear.
How about adding a crafting chapter, with the crafting only for creating equipment which changes your appearance. As there are no "stats", gear can't have stat bonuses. But maybe we can think of "epic" crafted gear with some other sort of bonuses.
First step in my mind would be economy.

Let's establish a theoretical exchange rate of 100 igc(in game currency) per common card, 200 per uncommon and 500+ per rare. First order of business, where is this money coming from? Do players earn it for winning battles? Is it given for winning mini games, or taken from opponents in duels?

For the moment, I'll assume you're using the points as a form of general currency. Now, we have a few options. For instance gear kits which have very minimal effects on a players effectiveness can be bought, with each color having different looks and bonuses. But also I'd recommend having apartments, with different realms and styles requiring different points. Card projectors that can hold a card or set of cards and display them inside your apartment can make a sort of trophy room.

You can create a bazaar area, but it would probably be better to create an area where players can expend points to create items. This would make a natural bazaar setting and allow you to introduce crafters and traders without breaking the production bank.

The overall goal is to create enough sinks that no players feels like they have enough to buy any and all cards.

Another easy way to get money flowing back to you is create a bunch of common and uncommon cards that can't be found in the game world. Nothing too powerful, but things that do a certain job very well. Because then, even if most people get them without buying them, they were still paid for at some point.

Also card shrines could require an object you get at the sage, or be placed in randomly generated instances to cut down on the thotbotting. On the other hand, thotbot et all is simply how many people think of finding info for these kinds of games now. It would be better probably to limit any one persons ability to draw cards down to one a day per shrine. That way they have to make a pretty good trek if they are going to be spending serious time in game.

That's my 2 cents. Take it for what you will.
Sounds interesting, but I'm probably biased in that I like Shandalar (and recently re-installed it).

One point you've not yet addressed however is the second 'M' in MMORPG - where does the multiplayer aspect come in? So far it's purely PvE, with no grouping.

How would you envisage grouping, would it simply be similar to current games in that people come together to take on harder mobs?

Would you amend the tank-healer-DPS model (I think this is a more fundamental concept that restricting it to the Combat chapter alone)?
I think your idea on the concept of questing is spot on. I was wondering what story would the actual character have with the cards he/her is playing and what would be the circumstance where he/she is playing with/against so many other people.
I don't know really anything about the card game but are you basing the combat on the card game? Can you use monsters as well as abilities? These are just questions which I am sure you will answer in your next few posts on the subject but just wanted to raise them.
I think the idea of free-to-play would be quite risky, I would prefer if there was a one-off payment that grants you more cards with booster packs being less powerful.
Sounds generally pretty sweet and I look forward to reading more on you 're ideal mmo.
Hi Tobold, why not set up a wiki to colaborate ideas for this MMO? If you set up one via or for free, it makes fleshing out ideas a community thing. Much like the guys at Penny-Arcade did with (a fan created fiction universe).

I'm sure many people have great ideas but are getting lost in comments.
Will there be crafting?
On second thought, I remembered that you had already implemented the whole "equal trades" thing. Doesn't mean you can't implement crafting, it just means it probably won't be the foundation of a healthy economy.
Nice idea.
Being a former Magic player i kinda like the idea but i see many problems and pitfalls.

One of the first is the absence of classes. Ok, you could build a "deck" with healing skills, other with melee damage skills, other with ranged and so on. But wouldn't that make the class change even more difficult? Unless you trivialize the cards making it possible to build medium quality "decks" easily so that everyone could play in the way that's needed. Nevertheless, this would make the game even more loot-centric than wow for people would all go for the cookie cutter deck perceived as the best. It will be very hard to balance. As soon as somebody figures out a new killer combo, the ingame places where that card drops will be overcamped and if the card is only from boost sets, only the people with more money would be able to get it. I can already hear the QQ.

Other issue is the gameplay itself. Will it be card game like the originam MtG game or will the "cards" appear in the "deck" interface each turn. Speaking of which, will the game have a turn based combat with a fixed number of actions per turn, after which it drawns another hand, or during combat, each abbility you play gets replace from another from the deck?

Just two issues from the top of my head.
Hey Tobold,

Of course I like the idea otherwise i would not spend the time to write this post, I hope you will see this as constructive criticism.

Maybe you should chek this out :

Etherlords is a great single player russian online card game.

Of course it is not the same as what you propose, but it is certanly something you should have a look at, for :
*** its a card game
*** You can build your own deck
*** Your deck evolves as you grow stronger
*** You "get points of different colors. You can buy cards with the points."

But unlike what you plan, it has :
*** Races with unique decks
*** A strong storyline
*** Levels

And that is what disturbs me in your project.

What is the reason you play for ?

I played Etherlord to the end, because I wanted to know the story, and because I wanted to experience the capacity of a level 10 in combat.

Why would players play Shandalar ?

*** No strong storyline (no MMO has one)
*** No leveling
*** No loot
*** No questing, since you choose your quest in function of what card you need. The game will not be about questing (à la WoW), it will be about picking the best cards and thus the best quests asap.

I will not write any further in the questing part, since you prefer un to wait for the questing entry.

Still, I think that before digging into game mechanisms like we do, we should ask ourselves the central questions :

Why would players DL the game ? Why would they play ? Why would they stay ?

My 2 cts


PS : as usual, plz apologize my english.
If there werent any pitfalls and problems this would be far too easy and no fun :)

Maybe we should add a story chapter too?

My original idea for an mmo/ccg hybrid did include a strong story, in fact it was one of the usps. Multiple branches, public quests with influence on the outcome and a real end (after which we would present our latest and greatest expansion pack:D).
"Why would players DL the game ? Why would they play ? Why would they stay ?"

Brilliant and i believed often overlooked question.

Let me have a go:

The Players will play Shandalar because of it's everchanging world, in-game events and a combat system that is fair and challenging.

Rather than game play (although it would have to be perfect) players will probalby favour the game who trully gives them some changeable universe.

Anyway, does anyone knows any template that can be used to organize ideias for gameplay? That would define the basic things and all? I think we all have great ideas, but can those be structured in a professional way?
Factions, you need factions, which the Player can identify himself with. To stay in the CCG Business take "Legend of the five Rings", "Warlord: Saga of the Storm" for example. Its great to see how much immersion is gained by having "YOUR" faction, or race.

Someone allready mentioned classes, which i would keep aswell, give them bonus and malus system for playing different types of cards.

I would keep equipment and leave the cards to represent the spells (In a WoW way)

I think balance and variety may be difficult to achieve especially if the cards are available through adventuring. You would have to make sure that certain cards aren't over powerful, otherwise that area will be overpopulated by people trying to get that card where as others may be empty as no one cares for those cards.

I like the idea of the crafting chapter, but I think it would need to be more worthwhile by providing some type of in game bonus through the things you create, or maybe even being able to create additional rare cards somehow.

The concept should also be modified from "cards" into some other term too as cards seems to rudimentary to me. Of course I've never played any of the trading cards games. But maybe "glyphs" or something fantastical may be better? I liked the sound of Runes, but I understand it's going to be done elsewhere...
Some points:

1) -Teut -- This would be random but in the same way your two-handed sword would randomly hit with 40 points on one blow and 70 on another. Your initial hand is random but how you play those random cards is where the skill comes in. Part of the beauty is never knowing what you are going to have to work with. Note: on an aside, this would be an interesting approach to a game like WOW where, randomly, part of your skills, spells, etc. are disabled and you have to fight with what you have available.

2) I see classes as being which color(s) you choose. You would have 5 pure classes (one for each color) and 10 hybrid classes (a mix of 2 colors). I think this is better than being able to change colors just by building a new deck. This forces you to re-roll an alt if you want to try black instead of red.

3) Levels are still important and provide increase in all-important life. How something equivalent to talents would be done is interesting. Perhaps allow certain types of cards based on talent choices or perhaps allow splashes of other colors.

4) Toughness of mobs is based on their life & their deck and their skill in playing deck.

5) PVP (1v1) is a standard duel. No prob.

6) Grouping is a major difficulty. I don't see any obvious simple solutions. This area will be an interesting discussion.

7) One person fighting groups of mobs is a standard occurrence. This never occurs in standard MtG. We would probably need AoE cards, etc.
I think this idea opens some very interesting paths that we could go down, although I'm not sure about not having points of differentiation (i.e. no class or race).

In fact, in a MTG paradigm, we have different decks, of different colors.

I think this could be incorporated as the different classes, although not as set in stone as with a traditional MMO. We could use them as the classes of Shandalar, and even consider them to be seperate realms of the game.

Hypothetically, you might progress your "red" deck (and even potentially the "red" story) in the "red" area, and be powerful versus, say, "blue", but you might need to work on your "green" in order to combat some quest or opponent in the pvp area, or in some sort of overarching story or quest line.

This adds achievement to the game, e.g. the power gamer in your guild can brag about how he not only has a full "black" set, but he also has his "white" set almost finished, and has defeated X mob.

Another point we can give to the achievers is a central story line (which I personally feel lacks sorely in WoW), where different elements grant you different titles, and are completed in a sequential fashion, such that you can earn a title in the game, such as "Knight Overlord".

The only problem I can see with this is that it isn't multiplayer (I know a few other posters who have mentioned this aspect, but I don't feel they have captured the essence of my point).

How do we team up? Will it just be 2v1?

I'm not sure how we could balance this - could we use an AI whom split it's attacks up between the two players?

Could we have decks which had taunting cards (a tanking deck even)? Obviously this implies healing and dps decks. Is this how we should cooperate in an ideal MMO?

Do people want to be healers only, or tanks only, or do they want to only try and burn things (ok, that last one is slightly rhetorical)?

I'm really not sure how we accommodate the socialisers, who just wanna be friends with everybody.
Here's how I'd do it.

1. split cards into generic and premium. Generic cards you get from questing, premium from boosters or tournaments.

2. cards representing gear start off as worn, providing a small passive bonus. Other cards go in a deck: every 20 seconds you get a new draw.

3. your level is the maximum mana cost of any spell you can play. You can increase this by doing quests.

4. first 30 seconds of a fight, you can only cast 1 mana spells, next 2 mana, and so on.

5. most spells are monster summons - the perspective is more like a RTS than a RPG.

6. movement would be strategic, 'move to engage', 'evade', etc. rather than wasd.

7. a tournament is kind of like a booster draft on MTG - all the cards from a pack are displayed, everyone gets to pick them one by one. Then you pair up and fight. Everyone gets to keep the cards they picked, plus prizes of about ~50% of the fee.

8. you could have a different type of tournament, which is more a race to complete a quest, but still allowing spell-casting to slow down an opponent.

9. tournaments that give out premium packs require a real money fee to enter.

10. unless you win a non-premium tournament, held a few times a day, with a in-game currency fee.

11. RMT is positively encouraged: you want people to become semi-professional players, and so spread word of mouth of the game.
Quote : "You would have 5 pure classes (one for each color) and 10 hybrid classes (a mix of 2 colors)."

Actually, that would be 25 Hybrid classes.


Gehenne -- yes - 5x5 = 25 however, you obviously will eliminate the red-red, green-green, etc cases since that is the original 5 pure classes.

That leaves us with 20 cases. For each case there is a complementary case, e.g. red-blue & blue-red. Obviously they are the same hybrid class so you can eliminate half of the remaining 20 cases and you end up with 5 pure classes & 10 hybrid classes.

You always have a card in your deck that is blank. When played this card has stats or abilities equivalent to the gear you have on.

So you collect gear with stats as well as cards and the gear you get (character you become) is what the blank magical card is when played. You can see what stats that card will have when you swap on different pieces of gear.

Or perhaps you have to wear a combination set of gear for the card to become useful.

Perhaps, you can gain a skill point to make that special, magical card become something other than a 'creature' card, like enchantment, sorcery etc.

Also, one thing I don't think has yet been mentioned is that a really fun/unique card game has to be designed, comparable to Magic:The Gathering for this project to even get off the ground.

I suggest the card game aspect be only used for solo PVE and PVP.

Group PVE would involve your avatar having powers equivalent to the gear you wear and fighting with that Avatar similar to WoW in group battles against mobs.

PVP fights would involve a mix of card play with some cards that throw you into an arena with other player(s) and the cards you had in your hand become like the 8 skills available to those who play Guild Wars, etc..
One thing I'd like to see is a more dynamic world environment. I hate how you can kill mobs over and over again in one area, but they never go away. Why not have a natural progression? Kill the quilboars and the thorns spawn lashers. Kill the lashers, but by then, they've spawned moths. And so on, until you get back to quilboars.

And, hopefully, as one group is killed off and replaced by its successor, the selection/color of cards dropped changes.

Of course, this begs the question of how to handle instances.
The race and class you pick for your avatar will be important when you start your character because with the gear you wear i.e. special card you become (see my first post above), you're creature will have your race/class description underneath it.

So if you're playing a 'goblin' deck and your race is goblin then you can see how when you play your 'avatar' card that he will be getting the bonus all goblins get if you have a Goblin Lord out (for example).

Get my drift?

This would also affect what groups you get into if one of your group mates throws down an enchantment that gives all 'warriors' + 2 to damage and you are a warrior, etc.

Like I said above, group PVE would not involve cards, but I didn't mention that before you join a group you can select cards from your deck to be your special abilities (outside whatever stats/abilities your gear may already give you...which is why you may have an ability to throw down an enchantment that affects your party or everyone in the battle, etc.

Now that sounds like fun.
I do like your idea of combining the card mechanic in an online game.

When i played Magic, the real challenge was to build a deck with a solid strategy behind it. A good deck was able to withstand the randomness of the draws in the sense that its strategy wasn't affected. It was then rewarding to see your deck win against others.
The deck is about strategy, the gameplay is about tactics.

Transport this feeling to an online game. You are a character in some online world, but the deck defines what you are. You can spend as much time offline as you want thinking about your setup, then you play your character (your deck) with the random effect to keep gameplay less boring.

I see these two points as key ideas: deck building(the character's role/class), randomness during gameplay.

A few months ago I traded WOW for EVE. I see some parallel notions here (i see EVE parallels everywhere now.. so don't take it too seriously):

You can fly several types of decks, of several flavors, each representing a role.

The composition of your deck depends on the availability of your cards. however, (almost)all allowed character actions should be achievable through common cards.

Even if you have the top cards from every flavor they don't make sense all in the same deck. You have to stick to a strategy.

Grouping makes alot of sense when you combine players with different decks and complementing strategies. You can have synergies with different flavors, possibly resulting in a non linear increase in effect to encourage grouping. Combine a red, blue and green card to call Captain Planet.

What about what you can do? Quests, progress and keeping the players busy.

One little thought. Use meta-skills: destroy cards and convert them into points to buy meta-skills. Faster draw rate? The possibility to have more (passive)card effects active? etc.
I think destroying cards and converting them into something is important because it removes unwanted cards and at the same time all cards have a minimum value. Recycling!

I'm curious to see how this project will evolve.

Cheers Tobold!
Ah another idea like M:TG the cards come in different colors/themes.

And you can only play colors in your deck that match the colors of your avatars gear. Since most avatar gear will be parts of different sets anyway (that give more bonuses the more of the set you have on), you most likely will be wearing most of one or 2 colors, etc.

This will give people the option to mix it up if they wish and also add more value/purpose to their avatar gear outside what I already mentioned in my posts above.

@Paul : My bad.

Some more points:

1) Mmo characters have equipment, weapons, and skills. Just how much of this will be replaced by cards are key decisions. Cards should have level requirements.

2) MtG duels are inherently turn-based. Whether they could or should be made real-time is an interesting discussion point. Perhaps time-limits on turns.

3) Duel ante is a key part of MtG combat. It makes sense that if you lose a combat you would lose a random card from your deck (death penalty). Similarly, if you defeat a mob you would get a card from its deck. Mobs would have a small percentage of rare cards in their deck so getting one of them would be like looting a green or blue item.

4) Mana is an interesting aspect of this game. In MtG, mana starts at zero for each combat and rises by playing mana cards. You also have different mana types for each different color. In an mmo you have a large pool of mana that gets depleted as you use the mana.

5) I think the most important decisions in this game are card design. Having many unique and varied card designs can make the whole gaming experience very rich because the desire to hunt down these cards and the strategy in deck building all depend upon an interesting card set.

Of course, card design can be quite difficult. All of the class balancing is tied up in the card design.
Group PVE would involve your avatar having powers equivalent to the gear you wear and fighting with that Avatar similar to WoW in group battles against mobs.

That would make the people who don't necessarily have a playable deck, but have really powerful cards, better at PvE, wouldn't it? It sounds scarily like having a raid deck....

The only other suggestion I'd have is, to improve the sales of the boosters, give a decent chance that each booster has some item which has, at best, a minor impact on gameplay and cannot be traded. I'm thinking along the lines of changing hairstyles of your avatar, perhaps a piece of vanity clothing, maybe even a one-use crystal ball that would allow you to contact the sage in the city without travelling there.

It does sound like we need more MM in our RPG, though. I'm not sure what to add there.
I strongly believe there should be factions, to allow for some PVP, and to add an easier way to deliver some story lines as players could only join a faction once in their lifetime. The faction leaders and officers, as well as just the rank and file would be chosen from the most notable of the faction members (Sort of like a guild, except more permanent, with a real presence in the world.) Perhaps there could also be in game castles, ala Lineage 2 that these factions can fight for to gain control over regions on the world map. Their faction members can then build things on specific plots in this region, such as trading posts, forts, maybe even able to build their own custom towns. Fighting for these castles would occur on huge battlefields, where people have to do certain slightly randomized miniquests to help charge their factions 'Siege Cards' that would turn the tide of battle severely when used.
How is it MMO? Why play with others?
Tobold said, "You fight your way through a cave full of monsters, arrive at some altar or relic, and there you can exchange your points for the card you wanted."

Just like Instance Bosses in traditional hack & slash MMOs can only be defeated by a group working together, in Shandalar if you want to get your hands on the better cards you need to work together with other players to defeat the guardians of the relics/altars.

Saying goodbye to the Holy Trinity
Every class can heal, but almost every Heal spell/card is a self-only Heal, with the exception of a group HOT spell/card. Nobody is forced into the traditional Whack-a-Mole Healer class because everyone is responsible for their own well being. If you die, it's your own damn fault for not playing your Healing card, or just sheer bad luck that you didn't get one, or your own fault for not including several Heal cards in your Deck.

Just as there's no pure Healer class, likewise there is no true Tank. A player whose avatar is more melee focused and more heavily armored could choose to play a Taunt card instead of a damage card, if he desired, but it wouldn't be a necessity. As a melee class the Boss his group is fighting is more inclined to attack him anyway. If the Boss has a ranged attack it might attack a ranged class, but with someone standing on its toes and smashing its face in with a mace, it's more inclined to attack the more immediate threat, ergo, threat is based more on relative positions rather than damage dealt.

Nobody is pigeonholed into playing a "Tank" or "Healer" so every "class" is equally capable of soloing, and because every class is a damage-dealing class nobody would be gimped for solo play just because they'd stacked their deck for group play.
OK presume the card game is M:TG, this is how I envision the game starting...

You pick a avatar Race. The race you pick determines the starting area/deck color you have.

Some examples:
Goblin, Troll, Giant, dragon:

Elf, Lizard, Spore, Were-wolf/other-creature:

Merfolk, sprite, Birdman, Efreet (Merlock?):

Human, Centaur, Birdman:

Human, Zombie, Imp, Were-Rat, Thrall:

You start out with an avatar wearing basic clothes of your starting color with no stats.
You start out with a starting card deck. Cards in the starting deck are flagged/marked as starting cards and you can trade them for other starting cards (only available from special NPC vendors at all the starting areas). No where else except starting areas can you get cards from vendors and only by trading one card for another can you get a card from that vendor. So you may start with a default black deck but there are other basic starting cards available at the black deck starting area vendor that you can trade the default starting cards for. This allows variety before venturing out into the world among the players who start at the same time.

From that point you can either explore, take on quests given by the locals or travel the road(s) to see what the next town has available.

When you encounter a hostile creature:
>>>If it is not sentient, you combat it using you're character and the top (5?) non-land cards on your deck become the spells/abilities you have at your disposal in addition to whatever skills/bonuses your gear gives you.
>>>If the creature is sentient, you play a card game against them. You can't use your avatar, except that your deck contains an avatar card equivalent/scaled to the stats given to you by your gear.

If you win against a nonsentient creature you get material and experience. 'Material' types will be used in tradeskills later to make/improve gear.

If you win against a sentient creature, you take one of their cards (ante) and you get gold and experience.

If you lose a card match, you are teleported to the closest town you have visited. You don't lose a card. Your gear damages, but may not degrade.

If you lose a battle (hostile nonsentient encounter):
1) Your gear damages and degrades slightly (damaged gear can be repaired, degraded gear lowers how much damage gear can take before it breaks). (Gear will always need to be replaced eventually.)
2) You also get a chance to flee when you have reached 0 lifepoints allowing you to run away without taking any more damage. If you take any more damage when at 0 life (after fleeing) from another creature (not involved in the battle) or otherwise, you are teleported to the nearest town you have visited.

You're purpose in the game is to acquire various types of gear, various new cards (to create better decks), and money (to repair your gear and buy misc other stuff). Explore the world, become powerful and unique.

Quests destinations will be random and your character will have a hidden unique identifier so the game can track your quest from others. If you are grouped when you get a quest, your group mate(s) will be prompted if they want the same quest or a unique variety.

At any time you can discard your unique quest and a groupmate can share their unique quest with you so you have the same quest objective/destination, etc..

Unique quests should reduce/eliminate online guides.

Cards can't be bought from NPC's but they can be traded with others and from those starting basic card vendors. You can’t lose cards unless your voluntarily play matches that require an (ante)

If you group with another player(s), you don't play a deck even against sentient creatures. The top 5?,8? nonland cards on your deck become your spells/abilities that you can use during the battle using your avatar and his stats/abilities.

Expansions to the game would introduce new physical lands for your avatar to explore as well as new cards and gear for your avatar to acquire.

The end game would consist of Harder level areas/(dungeons?) Where you can group or duo to acquire more unique gear or special ablities that affect how some cards work in groups or aquire cards that only affect group play/encounters, and/or unlock special moves that your avatar can perform.

These are some of my thoughts.
Have you ever played Baten Kaitos? It is a single player JRPG where all equipment and skills are card based. I enjoyed that system very much. Basically each card had an effect (either giving stats as equipment or harming/healing/buffing during battle), and also a set of numbers on each corner. When it was your turn, you could use one of the 7 cards from your deck that were currently face up. If you used them in a certain order based on the corner numbers, you could even create combos. Although it was technically turn based, the turns were timed and it gave a very active, real time impression. I don't see a huge problem adapting this to group play, you just put cooldowns on playing cards and let people do what they can with their decks.

@ Teut
I can't disagree more with some of your criticisms.

No equipment--you're collecting the cards, how is that different from collecting anything else? It's all pixels and data.

Combat by random cards--I hate how predictable WoW battles are. They require little to no real time tactics. Bosses are popular in WoW because they drop the best loot. And yeah, people gravitate towards simple, non-random fights because it maximizes their loot. But if you create a different expectation and offer fun combat I think a lot of people would enjoy it. The Kara Prince fight, one of the most random in the game, is one of my favorite fights because it requires that you build a strategy that mitigates how badly the random effects hurt you. The strategy in a card based game is based on constructing an appropriate deck for the encounter you're facing. For example, if you know a boss is going to be casting lots of debuffs, you have certain people in your group bring decks heavy on dispel cards.


I had a similar conception of classes. I'm not really someone who has a background in CCG at all, but it would be fairly simple to implement classes, levels, and talents in a game like this. You just make certain cards only available to play if you are the appropriate class or level, or have the right talent. Having "colors" instead of classes seems elegant enough to me.
Talance said...
Group PVE would involve your avatar having powers equivalent to the gear you wear and fighting with that Avatar similar to WoW in group battles against mobs.

That would make the people who don't necessarily have a playable deck, but have really powerful cards, better at PvE, wouldn't it? It sounds scarily like having a raid deck....

Ah good point! To access a group dungeon, you first have to 'flag' yourself for the dungeon by solo playing a deck against a creature or numerous creatures and when you defeat them, you can only enter that dungeon bringing with you the deck you used to flag yourself for that dungeon. You can always go back and reflag yourself to add more decks to the list of decks you can bring to that dungeon.

This will prevent someone from just loading a deck full of powerful cards that otherwise wouldn't play well as a deck normally when in group play

Other thoughts:

When you buy the box game, inside the game box, you get a starter deck of cards, equivalent to the basic cards you would get at any of the starting areas in the game.

If someone desires to play the card game with friends outside the MMO game, other starter decks and cards can be bought online.

The neat twist is: cards will be available in game that are not available online. And for every month you play the online subscription game, you will get 1 point associated with your online account outside the game. For every point you can order 2-3 copies of any card your character has in the game to be shipped to you irl.

So, included with the subscription of the game you also get to order a few copies of a card (that you can only get in the game), to be sent to you free of additional charges.
I wonder if you couldn't reach some sort of compromise between your vision and a gear and/or leveling system. People like shinies, people like an immediate sense of progression after they win a fight.

For those who crave gear: The WoW card game has cards that are gear for the player's avatar, right? How about something like that? Among your deck of cards you've got a helmet, a sword, a robe, a staff, whatever. It isn't gear as such, it's just a type of card with a specific flavor that makes people THINK of it as gear.

For people who want potions or other consumables, what if the player could get CoX-style temporary boons that they could trade in for a Demonic-Tutor style "next fight, choose one of your cards for your starting hand" kind of thing. Something they could save up for a challenging boss fight.

This particular type of boon would let you use gear cards more as an extension of the player than something you might happen to draw in any given fight.

For the "we want levels" people, how about some kind of achievement-based progression, like, once you've defeated 30 forest imps, your character gets tagged such that you always win initiative against forest imps and a little shiny "Imp-surpriser" medal shows up on your character sheet.

The crafting system you suggest could be used to make gear: Let's say you wager a "Copper sword" card plus a "fireball" card plus a "mana catalyst" card to get a chance at playing a crafting minigame -- if you win, you end up with the +1 Copper Sword of Flaming Awesome, if you lose, you lose one or more of the ingredients in the attempt.

As much of a crafting-idealist as you seem to be, Tobold, I'd hate to see you design a crafting system with no game impact -- how is anybody else supposed to learn anything from your ideas? :)
Tobold is as much a creator of ideas as a creator of discussion (+ his ideas/opinions) in such a way as to pique others interest and desire to contribute their ideas in the discussion.

Tobold isn't as much a creator of ideas as a creator of discussion (+ his ideas/opinions) in such a way as to pique others' interest to contribute their ideas in the discussion.
Lots of interesting ideas already! This could become a good series of topics.
I don't like booster packs. I would prefer a system that was more revolved around finding cards within the game world OR buying "sets" of cards.

Sets of cards would revolve around mostly "common" cards and get players up and running. These cards would only be available through buying sets or trading cards.

Then within the world, players would adventure and pit their deck against NPC encounters, all adding into a "fame" system that unlocked harder challenges.

Finally, when a player vs player match went down, there would definitely need to be an ante system where the winner receives 1 random card from the defeated opponents deck. Of course, for casual play the ante could be ignored.

Then there could also be special promotional cards, or fund-raising cards, that are offered on a limited basis. Eventually they would become collectors items.

I love the overall idea, but boosters are soooo overused.
Love the ideas folks! Very creative suggestions!

I've got ideas too, but I'll try to keep them in each of the various upcoming chapters...

Possible Chapters:

Economy - keeping the players happy, the company happy, and making sure the world economy has sufficient money sources and money sinks.

Toon Customization - decks, equipment, housing, stats, etc., etc.

Other games - what games have what mechanics that might translate well here? I'm thinking MtG and Legends of Norrath (the EQ/EQ2 TCG) are obvious ones.

Grouping - playing together with other toons

Loot & cards
i think it's a very interesting concept, and sounds very "Metal Gear AC!D" for the psp.

the change here is that we're dealing with a WoW combat engine, where your "draw" consists of the hotbar that gets formed.

while interesting, it seems like it would be frustrating to drag around the buttons, or end up with the "main spell" you'll be using that fight end up way over on #9.

you've mentioned before you use the nostromo, and i swear by it also, but without methodical, turn based combat, it seems like it wouldn't be used very well.

sounds like a game i'd buy, play for a month, then put back down.
> Nobody is pigeonholed into playing
> a "Tank" or "Healer" so every
> "class" is equally capable of
> soloing, and because every class
> is a damage-dealing class nobody
> would be gimped for solo play just
> because they'd stacked their deck
> for group play.

i don't really see this happening either. in wow, you can bring pots and 4 rogues to a five man, but if you're the tank, and you die... well... i imagine people would still be pigeonholed into building a "tank" deck, "main healer" deck, etc.
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