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Join the RPG renaissance! From the creators of Wasteland 2 and Torment comes the long awaited sequel to the Bard's Tale trilogy.
From the creators of Wasteland 2 and Torment comes the long awaited sequel to the Bard's Tale trilogy. Thank you for making this game a reality. The bard is back!
From the creators of Wasteland 2 and Torment comes the long awaited sequel to the Bard's Tale trilogy. Thank you for making this game a reality. The bard is back!
33,741 backers pledged $1,519,680 to help bring this project to life.

Character Progression

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Howdy citizens of Caith. David here, back to share some juicy details about The Bard's Tale IV. Taking a short break from combat mechanics, during this update we'll be covering a subject that I'm sure is very near and dear to all RPG lovers' hearts - character progression. Specifically, we'll be talking about character advancement: gaining experience, specializing your adventurer, being judged by the Review Board, and lastly the role equipment plays in your character's growth. The details we go over are all subject to change as we continue to playtest and tune the game, but should provide a good sense of the overall direction of The Bard's Tale IV's character progression system.

Experience is a concept that RPG fans should be very accustomed to. Besting foes, solving ancient riddles, and rediscovering forgotten parts of the old world all grant experience, which naturally leads to leveling up. In The Bard's Tale IV, our goal with character advancement is to find a balanced system that always provides a meaningful amount of growth at even its smallest increments, while also being fun to use. For us, this centers around our skill tree.

The original Bard's Tale trilogy had a character progression system closely tied to your starting class, plus the fascinating idea of evolving into different types as you reached higher levels. A budding Conjurer could progress down that track, or change professions and learn to be a Magician, Wizard, Sorcerer, and ultimately an Archmage. We are retaining this strong class-based focus in The Bard's Tale IV. We’re also opening up this more in-depth character progression to all the classes, allowing each class to specialize into their own set of sub-classes. By merging the sub-class concept into a tree structure, we are better able to give each adventurer meaningful and impactful choices each time you level up.

Each class has access to its own unique skill tree. From here, your adventurer is able to learn how to wield new gear, gain attribute points, learn new abilities, and gain passive effects. Basically, your character can be fully described through their skill tree. At a glance, you can tell a Sorcerer from a Wizard, a Thief from an Assassin, and a Vanguard from a Commander, all just by looking at their skill tree. Each time one of your Adventurers levels up, they are granted a single point to spend on their skill tree, with each skill costing exactly one point.

While skill trees can have a lot of options, their complexity grows along with the adventurer. The very first view you might have of your skill tree as a Fighter might look a little something like this, showing only a smaller number of skills to unlock:

The image above is a mockup using placeholder art, but should give you a sense of what this might look like in the game.
The image above is a mockup using placeholder art, but should give you a sense of what this might look like in the game.

In the above image we see the player has a few choices to pick from for their fledgling Fighter: learning to wield more advanced one handed weapons, learning to wield great weapons, gaining access to battle standards, wearing more protective armor, gaining bundles of attribute points, learning a new passive, or learning to craft basic potions. You'll notice that many of those choices also carry along with them some increased attributes as an added bonus.

For those of you thinking that's all there is, don't worry. You'll be able to view your entire skill tree from the get go. For simplicity's sake we set the default view to show you only what you have available at a given level, and what's just beyond the horizon. However, you can always zoom out to see the full number of options available to your adventurers as they grow into heroes of legend.

As you unlock new skills, you'll begin to also unlock the next tier of options in your skill tree. That's displayed by the counter under each tier header, with each tier requiring a total number of skill points spent character-wide. The adventurer above, for example, has so far unlocked seven out of nine skills needed to progress to Tier 3. These tiers play a role in a character's growth in a few ways, some more obvious than others. First, it helps create big milestones in the career of your adventurer. Just as you've advanced your progression towards one or more sub-classes and your options have begun to taper down, you unlock a new tier and your available options explode out again. It also provides incentive to each adventurer to acquire skills they might not have otherwise, encouraging exploration within your build. Lastly, it allows us as designers to deliver a more balanced experience because we can better ensure that at least some minimum number of points were spent towards defensive and offensive skills in one form or another during the early stages of the game. What kind of armor and fighting style you adopt and eventually specialize in later on is entirely up to you.

Once a character has spent the needed number of skill points to reach the next tier within their skill tree, it's time to visit the Review Board. For those of you who are new to The Bard's Tale series, the Review Board is a returning oldie but goodie – it is a milestone in your journey as an adventurer. We ask you to perform a pilgrimage of sorts back to Skara Brae to come before the Review Board and be deemed worthy (or not) of their blessing. If found worthy, the next tier in your skill tree unlocks, and along with it a whole world of new possibilities.

In older Bard's Tale games you visited the Review Board each time you wanted to level up. Since we'll be traveling far beyond the borders of Skara Brae, into distant lands and realms far from home, we wanted to keep the game moving forward by requiring you to return to the Review Board less frequently while still staying true to this staple of the series. We also know that when you level up, you generally want to spend your new skill points immediately rather than having to wait till you leave a dungeon to see the Review Board.

As you progress through an adventurer's skill tree you'll encounter an increasing amount of choice, some of which comes in the form of mutually exclusive branching. This is when a pre-requisite line branches and selecting one branch causes the other branch to lock, like so:

Here we see that this Fighter is seeking to continue their training in armored combat. They could continue their training in Medium Armor, or she could choose to begin training in Heavy Armor. Medium Armor tends to provide a well balanced mix of offensive and defensive attributes, while also granting special passive abilities that make you a more flexible and supportive fighter. Heavy Armor, on the other hand, tends to be more defensive than offensive and can provide unique buffs to how you move around the battlefield, even allowing you to push allies and enemies around with your sheer bulk. Once that choice is made, the remaining branch is locked off and cannot be selected, and as you continue to invest points that will naturally lead you in directions that play towards certain sub-class archetypes. This will encourage you to make your character choices wisely and specialize your roles throughout your entire party, and will mean that even if you have multiple characters of the same class, they will still end up feeling significantly different.

Reaching the end of one of these prerequisite skill tree paths is the goal for many an adventurer. Much like how Conjurers can specialize to become Wizards, Magicians, Sorcerers, and ultimately Archmages in the classic Bard's Tale games, our other classes are also able to specialize and attain titles of their own to evolve their capabilities. The Fighter, for instance, is able to become a Vanguard, Veteran, Commander, Champion, or Defender – each carrying with them their own game-changing abilities, gear, and passives.

We'll have a number of sub-classes for each main character class available on the skill tree. Here's some directions a basic Fighter might be able to evolve.
We'll have a number of sub-classes for each main character class available on the skill tree. Here's some directions a basic Fighter might be able to evolve.

That said, an adventurer can still be a master of many aspects of their chosen profession. While it's impossible to gain every title and master every skill line, a true adventurer of legend may eventually master two or three. This is one of the many important ways we ensure that even max level characters of the same class feel very different from one another. A fully unlocked skill tree looks like this:

For those of you looking closely at the skill tree descriptions, which I'm confident many of you are, you might be wondering where you get your combat abilities from. Many of them, in fact, do not feature in the skill tree directly – instead, the place you acquire abilities is actually from your equipment. As you progress down the skill tree you unlock the ability to wield new and more exotic weapons, off-hand items, and trinkets. You may unlock access to a single item, such as a battle standard, or an entire category of items, such as Tier 2 great weapons. These items each have a specific ability or abilities. By wielding a great club you'd be able to use Lumbering Strike during battle, while wielding a battle standard would allow you to rally your allies with the ability "To Me, Brothers." As a certain weapon is used, an adventurer will eventually master its abilities, allowing them to keep using those abilities even without needing the weapon equipped. This will let you naturally unlock a vast amount of tactical flexibility over the course of the game.

And lastly, equipment such as your helm, armor, and boots also play a major role in your character's growth and progression. Through the skill tree you're also able gain access to increasingly powerful and exotic armor, robes, costumes, garbs, habits, and accoutrement. Your gear accounts for a major chunk of your adventurer's attributes. How many blows your character can withstand, how able he or she is to focus the eldritch forces, and their mental fortitude is heavily influenced by what mystic equipment they've found and learned to use throughout their journeys. These items can also grant you unique passive abilities that can help you form powerful combos. Itemization is an important aspect of The Bard's Tale IV and we've only given you a cursory glance, so we'll be touching on it more later.

By the good graces of the Review Board, wise choices made in your skill tree, and only the most potent of enchanted war gear, your adventurer can become a one of a kind hero whose deeds will be chronicled through song for an age.

RPGWatch Interview, Necropolis

Since we last spoke, I had an interview at RPGWatch, covering a variety of topics from systems design to dungeon design. Give it a read if you want to know more about the game!

 

We also wanted to take a moment for our friends at Harebrained Schemes, who you might remember successfully Kickstarted their Shadowrun series of games. Now, they have just released their newest title, Necropolis. This co-op roguelike combines Souls-like combat, dungeon exploration and RPG elements. Is it any surprise we had to struggle to pull ourselves away when we got the chance to check it out? If that sounds interesting to you, you can check Necropolis out on Steam or GOG.

I hope you enjoyed this look into the character progression system of The Bard's Tale IV. As always, I'll be eager to read your comments. Your feedback is so valuable to us, as is your support. We couldn't, and wouldn't, do any of this without you. Cheers, and until next time!

David Rogers
Lead Systems Designer
inXile Entertainment

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Comments

    1. Rivethead on September 27

      David how about another update? Weather's getting cooler in NOLA....time for some news.

    2. MikeHumphreys on July 26, 2016

      @InXile thank you for the update! I did have one question and a request.

      Will the Archmage class being in this game? (Pretty please.)

      Also, I really hope you're going to have the monk class in this game. It was an absolute blast to play BT1 with two monks in my party and I'm hoping to be able to have a monk in my party for BT4 as well.

    3. Kiwilander on July 25, 2016

      Good system - reminds me of The Witcher's - but have a concern using it for Bard's Tale IV with its small party size. Highly specialized characters tend to have lot of intra-party dependencies on other characters which extends to NPCs, and summoned, party members. You cannot theory craft your party when you don't know when and what NPCs become available - it introduces randomness as to how complementary / effective your party characters are. Moreover it can be a huge setback if a core NPC member is removed from the game later in the story line which is what inXile did in Wasteland2

    4. TrentJaspar on July 25, 2016

      @descalabro: All of the art is placeholder. Give them some time.
      Re: locking: I think this helps design and balancing. As long as they don't overdo it, it should be fine.
      Re: complexity: I used to love the complexity, studying every combo, making spreadsheets to min/max. But times and lives change and I hope the game is still accessible to a *somewhat* more casual player. I don't mean an iPad RPG, but something in the middle. I also like the idea of people who want it harder to make specific self-imposed rules to do so, e.g., visit the Review Board on every levelup (don't spend points until you get there).

    5. Keovar on July 24, 2016

      I hope that most of a character's effectiveness is intrinsic, based on skill choices rather than loot randomness. Repeating the same content hoping for a more favourable roll on a loot table tends to ruin the feel of the adventure being a story.
      "Yes, I know we have to take down the lich before he has enough zombies to murder everyone and their little dog too, but I still don't have gauntlets of +3 bonethumping, so we need to do another crawl through level 4 of the catacombs." ...zzz

      Pere King - As with any game, players are free to impose restrictions if they like. There are groups who play MMOs as roguelikes, with death meaning deletion, even though there's nothing keeping them from respawning. Do they need to spend coding time to provide a mode that makes you do something the game already allows? Play on Twitch and/or record for YouTube and tell your audience you plan to play in a more 'veteran' mode. They'll certainly call you on it if you bend the extra rules you've set for yourself. There are Minecraft spectators who claim it's 'cheating' when a player uses a separate creative mode map to plan a build before constructing it on a survival mode server.

    6. Jeremie Lariviere
      Superbacker
      on July 24, 2016

      very cool update!

    7. meganothing dread bard of torment BOSB on July 23, 2016

      @Saxon1974: You need to go to the review board whenever you had enough levelups to cross into the next tier (the concentric circles in the pictures above). This seems to be the case 3 times, i.e. when you gain level 3, level 9 and at some unknown higher level.

    8. Missing avatar

      draelix on July 23, 2016

      Hope you didn't cut some of the more esoteric classes from the original series, like the hunter or monk.

    9. Missing avatar

      DerekG on July 23, 2016

      Suggestion: Any chance the background image can change as you progress toward different subclasses? For example, in the fighter skill tree the fighter increases the amount of armor as they work toward Defender and becomes bigger and stronger as they work toward the Vanguard sub-class?

    10. Missing avatar

      Saxon1974 on July 23, 2016

      So do you need to visit review board to progress or not? Maybe more than one city with a review board? I'm not clear on that.

    11. Pete King on July 23, 2016

      Losing the need to visit the Review Board on every levelup is really going to change the gameplay from the original. In the first game this really characterised the gameplay. Being 3 levels down in the catacombs and needing to get out to gain new abilities, recharge spell points,etc, contributed to the difficulty and overal horror of the game and made a big impression on me, from panic to rising tension. I would like to see this implemented in a 'classic' mode difficulty setting if possible. Give the kids their toned down game and the old hands their expected challenge.

    12. Daniel on July 23, 2016

      I'm more worried about the branch option that cuts off a class option but doesn't provide a class option itself. In the old games, for spellcasters you really wanted your caracters to be "every class" they could be, with only a very few classes in the latter games being restrictive in your entire class setup (in that they effectively basicly made the character forget his old class and becomming a new single class character, a design I hated).

      Part of the series, for me, was grinding up the experience to make my characters into 'the ultimate heroes', meaning that I gave them every ability/spell they could possibly get whie you could always just tkae a day off to do some mindless xp hoarding without considering the plot of the story or anything but a random dungeon dive. Is this going to be present too, or will we be restricted to a more linear "modern style" rpg with a cap on characters progression ability?

    13. Missing avatar

      descalabro on July 22, 2016

      I don't know about the technology because I haven't read anything, but the drawings look very amateurish and uninspired. I mean, at the level of average deviantart drawings...

    14. madGamer on July 22, 2016

      i prefer customize skills but you can put an option to automatic for people that dont like it :)

      Anyway nice updade

    15. Corey Squire on July 22, 2016

      If I were to guess this isn't about being a jack of all trades or even about being prevented from making bad decisions. My gut feeling is that this is to prevent making really good decisions by preventing a min/maxing build. I notice that the subclass forks that lock one or the other are Champion/Commander both of which sound like something that give ally buffs, and Vanguard/Veteran both of which likely add to that character's combat ability.

    16. Geoff May on July 22, 2016

      Regrading locking and 'jack of all trades', keep in mine that there are indeed many paths to take. It seems to me that any tree branch that gets locked is because logically training in on route necessarily precludes/contradicts training in another. Ultimately the devs would need to decide carefully which branches would be counterproductive and only lock those, but I see the multiple archetypes as a form of jack of all trades in this progression style.

      This would be similar to the classic where a spellcaster might change classes before learning all 7 levels of their current class. The move to switch classes would produce a 'locked' branch in their tree. That's really the only case however as all non-spellcaster casters were either single-class or one secondary class (save for Geomancer, which would also effectively be a universal branch-lock class change decision).

      I don't see a significant problem with branch locking in the progression tree, as long as the logic behind one skill or the other actually makes sense (a person wouldn't learn both skills as they'd conflict with each other - not like learning multiple weapons, but more like learning a skill that produces a physique that would not be optimal for the alternate skill, for example)

    17. Geoff May on July 22, 2016

      This was a wonderful and meaty update!
      I do like how elements of the classic progression have been buffed up for the 21st century :) It's new, but still feels (to me) to retain a sense of classic BT aura.

    18. meganothing dread bard of torment BOSB on July 22, 2016

      I like the complexity. I also think one should be able to make wrong choices (like wasting skill points by learning heavy *and* medium armor). Otherwise there are only right choices and no need to think.

      So, I'm with Brent Rose on this point and also would recommend an automatic choice (could be as simple as the default choice already selected) for people who don't like to customize their characters. Though I can't imagine why someone wants to play an RPG(!!) without defining the R(ole)

    19. Missing avatar

      Ritchie Tiongson on July 22, 2016

      Development's looking good! After the disaster I experienced with Mighty No. 9 this makes me smile.

    20. Craig Smith on July 22, 2016

      I cannot wait to play this! Keep up the great work guys!

    21. Brent Rose
      Superbacker
      on July 22, 2016

      Tbh, I think a skill tree is a bit much for this type of game as well. My bigger concern though, is locking/blocking portions of the tree as a player puts in points. That's an extremely limiting factor. The player should be able to choose whether to be a 'jack of all trades' (master of none) or focused on a particular skill. Arbitrary blocking of player choice is something to be avoided at all costs. Yes, a player may do things unexpected or not play how you (the designer) would, but that's the thing - each player should make their own journey through the content.

    22. Missing avatar

      ChiliPete on July 22, 2016

      I have been so excited about this game, until this post. Bard's Tale was fun because it was simple. Why add all this complexity which doesn't add anything to the fun. Am I seriously going to have interruopt the game and put a lot of thought into whether my fighter should be able to use Medium Armor or Heavy Armor. That's ridiculous. Please at least give us the option to play the game without having to deal with this system. Maybe make it behind the scenes and automatic. Hopefully this sytem will be stripped down in beta testing.

    23. K.E.I. on July 22, 2016

      "will eventually master its abilities, allowing them to keep using those abilities even without needing the weapon equipped" .... Enter "lumbering strike" while only having a dart equipped.. The animation team will have a fit with that one. :P

    24. Corey Squire on July 22, 2016

      This looks really promising. I can't wait for it to come out.

    25. Missing avatar

      stuartcain on July 22, 2016

      The more details you post the less it sounds like Bard's Tale.

    26. Nakano on July 22, 2016

      Would it be possible to have an additional option to automatically spent the skill points when a character levels up? No need to spent time for manual choices then, though, it may be true that most of people wants to customize their characters personally.