Posted on 12-Jan-2004
For some time now, bringing up the topic of allegiance experience (XP) in an Asheron's Call discussion forum has been an excellent way of starting a flame war. There are those who have passionately campaigned for a change to the system, and there are those who have just as passionately defended it.
In this article, I'll be explaining why the Live Team believes that the system should be changed. I'll also be explaining what changes we plan on making as well as the expected impact of these changes on your characters and the community.
I'm sure that one of your first questions is, Why now? Why make a change to a key system of the game four years after release?
There are many reasons why we've decided to go forward with this change. The most important is that we believe it is in the best interests of Asheron's Call in the long term. Asheron's Call still has a long future ahead of it! There are some who might say, "It's too late for this change to make any difference." However if you look at it from another perspective, the last four years have been just the beginning of AC's lifespan.
We also believe that the recent creature rebalancing has removed a lot of the tedious "level grinding" in the upper levels. Allegiance experience used to provide a helping hand past these boring levels, but with more high level quests, better high level creatures, and more opportunities to earn appropriate experience rewards at high levels while actively playing the game, allegiance experience is no longer quite so necessary for this purpose.
In addition, as Jessica announced earlier this week we plan to open a new world in the Spring. This creates a great opportunity for us to open this world with the new system firmly in place.
Our plans call for this system to go live as part of the February event.
The Original Goals
When Asheron's Call launched, there were three initial goals for the allegiance system:
- Create an incentive for high-level players to assist low-level players via the patron-vassal relationship.
- Provide a framework for a social game experience.
- Add to the atmosphere and background of the game.
A system of allegiance experience, or "pass-up", was designed to create in-game incentives to help meet these goals. As vassals gained experience, their patrons would also gain XP. The XP "passed up" was based on the amount of experience gained by the vassal, and modified by a number of factors such as the Loyalty of the vassal and the Leadership of the patron. The patron would then pass a percentage of this XP up to his patron, and so on.
This provided an incentive for experienced players to assist new players. The experienced players could provide the new players with equipment, advice, and aid, and would gain experience as their vassals advanced. As folks banded together under this system, they created allegiances and a whole social dynamic.
Problems with the System
As the AC player base matured, folks began to figure out exactly how to use the allegiance XP system to get the maximum experience return. There were several problems with the initial system.
To a casual observer of this system, going by the in-game documentation, it would appear that the best way for a vassal to increase pass-up to a patron is to increase his or her Loyalty skill. Likewise, the best way for a patron to increase pass-up from his or vassals is to train and put XP into Leadership.
However, as many of you have learned, this is not necessarily the case.
There are a number of other factors that contribute to a character's effective Loyalty and Leadership. The effective Leadership and Loyalty skill levels are the numbers that are actually used in allegiance experience calculation.
For example, it is possible to increase your effective Loyalty by spending more time in-game sworn to the same patron. Vassal-to-patron pass-up has no effective cap, but patron-to-grandpatron pass-up caps with an effective Loyalty of 175. If you're sworn for 10 days to the same patron, the base Loyalty required to maximize the pass-up from your vassal through you to your patron is only 88. Take into account level 7 enchantments, and you can see how there's practically no need to spend XP on the skill, due to the ease in reaching the cap.
Leadership is arguably worse off. In theory, you need to train Leadership and spend XP on it in order to get maximum results. However, effective Leadership is multiplied by two factors how many vassals you have, and how long they have been sworn to you, with the emphasis on the number of vassals you have. The effect of Leadership on pass-up caps at around 165 effective Leadership 83 base Leadership before the modifier.
The end result of this is that if you have two active vassals and you can get 10 mules sworn underneath you for an average of 5 in-game days, you never need to raise your Leadership beyond 83. Again, take into account level 7 enchantments and you can see why few people even bother training the skill. It's just too easy to reach the cap.
Clearly, these two skills should have value beyond what they have now.
And there is one other issue with the Loyalty and Leadership skills. As both of these skills are based on the Self attribute, and since magic-using characters tend to start with a higher Self and put more XP into increasing it, magic-using characters tend to have higher Leadership and Loyalty than other characters. When considered from the point of view of XP pass-up, the entire system appears biased towards mages.
This is generally perceived to the biggest problem with the system. To put it simply, the mathematics of the system means that multiple characters can generate an extraordinary amount of XP very quickly by maximizing pass-up and having all members of the allegiance sworn into a straight line from monarch to lowest-level vassal.
As an example, imagine a chain of ten characters. A is sworn to B, B is sworn to C, C is sworn to D, and so on up to J. All ten players have optimized their characters for maximum pass-up, something that is not particularly difficult to do, as I demonstrated previously.
In this situation, if A earns 1 million XP, B will receive around 440,000 XP. That's not a whole lot, really. But then C will receive around 400,000 XP, D will receive around 390,000, and so on up the chain. After the initial vassal-to-patron step, each additional step provides only slightly less XP than the step before it. After a full nine steps, J is still receiving over 300,000 XP. With only ten characters involved, the allegiance system by itself will create over 3 million XP in addition to the 1 million that A earned! This only increases as you add more characters to the chain. A chain of 30 characters can multiply that initial 1 million into an additional 6 million, just by existing! And, of course, these figures ignore the insane accumulation of experience that can result when all 30 of those characters are themselves actively earning XP.
This compounding of experience has a number of side-effects, the most obvious being rapid advancement. This makes balancing the game more difficult and can actually lead to boredom, as players level past content that should have kept them busy for awhile. In addition, many of our players see this rapid advancement as being unfair to those who do not use this system. They feel as though they are trapped between a rock and a hard place they must either use this system or be "left behind".
While many allegiances have chosen not to restructure to take best advantage of the XP pass-up system, the lure is always present. Many allegiances have lost valued members to the call of free and easy XP. Many (although certainly not all) "Chain" allegiances are XP-producing machines with none of the patron-to-vassal aid or other social structures of the allegiance as it was envisioned by the original designers.
In addition, the impact on player morale has been noticeable. Many players feel upset or cheated when they have worked hard to achieve a high level in the game, and others reach that same level on the back of an XP chain.
We had three goals in mind when considering this system for revision:
- Increase the value of the direct patron-vassal relationship.
- Reduce the sheer amount of experience produced by XP chains.
- Make experience spent on Leadership and Loyalty more valuable.
The primary strength of the allegiance system lies in the direct patron-vassal relationship. While there is obviously also value in the vassal-grandpatron relationship, and particularly in the relationship between the monarch and all of the monarch's followers, we believe that the emphasis for experience pass-up should be the direct vassal-patron relationship.
The New System
Leadership and Loyalty
The largest change that we are making to these skills is that they will no longer inherit part of their skill levels from the level of your Self attribute. In fact, these skills will no longer be based on any attribute at all! The only way to raise these skills will be to invest experience into each skill directly.
Effective Loyalty will still be modified by the time you have spent sworn to your patron. Effective Leadership will still be modified by number of vassals and average time that they have been sworn to you, but the emphasis will be on the "time sworn" side and not on the "number of vassals" side. In fact, the vassals required to achieve the maximum benefit will be decreased from 12 to 4. This is to reduce the incentive to have non-playing vassals.
For both Loyalty and Leadership, the time sworn modifier will now be a factor of both in-game time and real time. Existing patron-vassal relationships will start with the same bonus that they are currently receiving. For example, if you have been sworn to your patron for enough time to receive 50% of the maximum benefit, you will still receive 50% of the maximum benefit when the new system is implemented.
Most importantly, Leadership and Loyalty will no longer "cap". That is, for every point you raise Leadership or Loyalty skills by investing experience into them, you will continue to see a benefit in terms of experience pass-up.
This is where we are making the greatest changes. In a nutshell, these are the new minimums and maximums:
- Vassal-to-patron pass-up will have a minimum of 25% of earned XP, and a maximum of 90% of earned XP. Under the old system, the minimum was about 9% of earned XP, and the effective maximum was somewhere near 44% of earned XP.
- Patron-to-grandpatron pass-up will have a minimum of 0% of XP passed-up by the patron's vassal, and a maximum of 10% of passed-up XP. Under the old system, the minimum was about 30% and the maximum was about 94%.
You will see that while the pass-up for grandpatrons and higher will be greatly decreased, the maximum pass-up for direct vassal-to-patron pass-up will be increased. This reinforces the basic patron-vassal relationship while reducing the amount of experience that is generated further up the chain.
Let's look at the example we had before, characters A through J, all optimized for maximum pass-up. If character A earns 1 million XP, character B will receive 900,000 XP. This is much higher than before! But character C will only receive 90,000, and character D will only receive 9,000. Characters H, I, and J will receive practically nothing. The new system will create 1 million XP over ten levels of pass-up, unlike the existing system which creates over 3 million.
The old system had only slightly diminishing returns as the chain increased. The new system will have drastically diminishing returns beyond the immediate patron of the character earning the XP.
Some of you will also want to know: Will we be removing previously gained allegiance experience from existing characters? However, that is not an option for us. The exact total amount of allegiance experience that a character has received over their lifetime is not recorded by the system.
What Do These Changes Mean?
- Patrons of active characters will see much more pass-up from these characters.
- Patrons or monarchs with inactive vassals, but active grand-vassals, will see much less pass-up from these characters. Characters that are in XP chains will see the XP that they receive from these chains decrease.
- Due to the changes in Leadership and Loyalty, the numerical value of these skills will decrease. However the new skill curves will take this into account. A patron who has put XP into Leadership may have a lower value in the skill than before, but they will be receiving as much or more XP from their direct vassals as before because of the changes to the system.
Additional Expected Effects
- Those players who are most concerned with optimizing their XP over time will probably try to recruit 12 active vassals of the highest possible level. This will create a great benefit for the patron character, with less benefit for the patron's patron and no experience benefit for the vassals. The chain system, which benefited all members above the lowest vassal in the chain, will become much less valuable.
- Monarchs of "traditional" allegiances, particularly those in old allegiances in which their direct vassals are no longer active, may see their received pass-up greatly decrease. If they are concerned with pass-up XP, they may seek to reorganize their monarchies.
- It will become easier to "power-level" a secondary character by swearing your primary character to him or her. However, it will be much harder to power-level three or more characters with one primary character.
Visible Player Information
On one hand, you will no longer be able to view the Loyalty and Leadership skills of a player by ID'ing him or her. On the other hand, you will be able to see when the character was created, and in particular whether the character was created before or after the new allegiance XP system was implemented.
The first change should foster more social interaction when seeking new vassals. No longer can you ID every player you see and immediately try to recruit the one with the highest Loyalty!
We are implementing the second change because we understand than many players are very competitive and enjoy comparing their accomplishments against those of their peers. To this end, players will want to know if a character was leveled to 126 in the "old days" when chain XP was effective, or under the "new system".
While we'd really love to be able to show you exactly how much allegiance XP a character has received, we unfortunately can't do that. We felt that this was the next best thing.
We understand that many monarchs may see this as a "nerf". Pass-up XP was one of the tangible benefits of running an allegiance, along with the ability to purchase a mansion and other smaller benefits.
We have plans to add a number of benefits to monarchs and monarchies in the future. In the short term, you should be seeing limited allegiance chat in the January event, as we stated in the Letter to the Players. We also would like to implement a number of organizational tools for monarchs, including the ability to permanently restrict a character or an account from swearing into an allegiance.
The changes described in this article will enter the game in the February event. These changes will reshape many allegiances along new lines, with stronger direct patron-vassal bonds. Those players who want to benefit most from allegiance pass-up will put XP into their Leadership and Loyalty skills, and the benefit they see will be commensurate with the experience they invest.
In the end, we believe that these changes will greatly benefit Asheron's Call. As I wrote at the beginning, we plan on sticking around for a long, long time to come. We do expect to see a lot of heated feedback on these changes, both from those who feel that we should not do this, and those who feel we are not doing enough. During this time, we will do our best to answer your questions about this new system.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and we'll see you in Dereth!
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