Developer Diary – Delvings

By Allan Maki (SSG_Orion), Lead Systems Designer

What is a Delving?

As part of Before the Shadow, we wanted to address a gap that exists at the top end of the game. The Standard players expect and we design for typically puts the best gear in raids, and this gear is acquired after spending a significant amount of time learning the mechanics of the fights, together with a group of like-minded players with a common goal of advancing their gear. It is an investiture of time and dedication that, when it is your turn to reap the benefits, feels good. While we do have an active raiding player base, raids like Hiddenhoard are not every player’s proverbial cup of tea. In fact, more often than not, we find a number of our players like to stop and smell the roses along the way and would prefer a more casual approach to acquiring that top end gear eschewing raids altogether.

This led to some interesting discussions on gearing, and how we needed to improve its acquisition for those “feels good“ moments throughout the game for all players. From there, we discussed how we needed to be careful to not flip the table and anger players who invested time and effort into the raids and eliminate their hard won spoils. We discussed how we should tie into existing game systems and stop leaving some of these systems behind as we move forward in the game, and in pretty short order we had the shell of an idea.

Once we had the shell of the system and knew that it was going to be an introduction of a harder mode to the existing Mission system, we conferred with the content team and presented the idea of the Delving System. Riffing on the iconic description of how Durin and the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm delved too deeply and unearthed a Balrog, we presented the system as defiled gems containing the malice of Sauron. Unleashing that malice, allows players to set the difficulty of the mission in a way that we have not allowed before.

Before work began on the system in earnest we set down the following guidelines to ensure the delving system became an extensible and enduring part of the game:

1. Delving system rewards do not replace Raid gear.
2. The Delving system should be evergreen.
3. The Delving system should support as many other systems as possible.
4. Time invested into the delving system should be significant but equally as rewarding.
5. The Delving system should be directed by player choice.
6. The Delving system should be extensible

With this direction in mind, we started to develop the system and decided on a direction that would give us the highest chance of success at meeting all the criteria.

Delving System Rewards and Raid Gear

While we do not want the Delving system rewards to replace raid gear, we do want the gear that you acquire through the delvings to be compelling. How then do you do this with a potentially evergreen system? It is a difficult question and one that we answered this way:

The rewards acquired through the Delving system are equivalent to roughly, Tier 3 raid gear. This means that the gear is really good! It also means that getting this gear needs to be gated by hard time lines and not always available. The decision was made that the gear upgrades would only be made when raids move to a consistent completion to Tier 3. This, of course, makes the goal of an evergreen system more difficult to achieve. So, we needed a solution to this new conundrum.

An Evergreen System

Evergreen systems are always available and should be. Their rewards need to be compelling. If the rewards are not compelling to players, then the system is bound to fail. The difficulty comes in striking that tenuous balance of compelling rewards that do not allow players to obviate future content.
Investing time into the evergreen system should always reward players with some manner of advancement or sense of accomplishment. Sometimes this can be as simple as a number going up, the acquisition of title, the unlocking of a new skill or ability, and most often getting a piece of new gear. If the evergreen system exists solely as a vector to gain more gear then there is even greater difficulty in maintaining balance.

To ensure that we did not lock the delving system into a gear-only system, we took a hard look at the various advancement tracks we have made available to players. We determined how we could tie the rewards into those systems so that there would always be a reason to engage with the new delving system with an eye toward system maintenance and sustainability.

Supporting other Systems

We wanted to support other game systems with the delving system. This was apparent to us at the outset of the development of the rewards and what we thought would be compelling to you. We decided early on that we wanted the delving system to support crafting, legendary items, reputation, and gear. To this end, we focused on how we can support those systems with the reward structure of the delving system.

For crafting, rewards for completing delvings at any difficulty tier have the chance to drop high end crafting materials, and some new recipes that we are really excited to introduce. Why? Because they take us into the legendary item system.

Along with LI tokens, the chance to earn Ancient Scripts, and bonus IAXP tomes, you have the potential to find recipes for crafting your very own Word of Craft and Heraldries for your Legendary Items. Oh, and as added note, the LI tokens found as rewards for completing delvings extend all the way up to Legendary LI traceries.

Reputation items, dyes, housing items, embers, stat tomes, and even black steel keys are all further potential rewards that you can earn for completing a delving.

You can also get gear through the delving rewards. The gear all relates to the delving system and drops come from the treasure acquired after completing the delving. Along with the gear are upgradeable items that are used to enhance items found in other new content to bring those items, specifically cloak and jewelry items, to “best in slot” levels.

Now, that just covers the random loot that you can find through completing a delving. We know that every pull from the reward chest is not going to be a winner, so we are making certain that you are working toward the goals that you have with the delving system. All of the gear, and many of the items that can be found as part of the random rewards can also be bartered for from new delving barterers. This means that you can set a long term goal as a more casual player and run the not too difficult tiers of delvings and progress at your own pace toward those end game rewards.

On the Matter of Time and Player Choice

As I referenced above, you can hit the jackpot on a pull and get the delving rewards available through barter or you can invest the time into the system to get the rewards.

By going through easier delving tiers, it will take you a fair bit of time to acquire the rewards that you want. The amount of barter currency gained after completion of a delving is directly related to the difficulty tier of the delving. Higher risk equates to higher reward. Delvings from tier 1 through tier 4 are fairly simple, though the stacking nature of the skills and effects granted to the monsters in the space do compound. Tiers 5 through 7 are where things start to get harder and more rewarding. Tiers 8 and 9 are not for the faint of heart and tier 10? Well…you know what they say about delving too deeply.

The choice is up to you and a partner if you so choose, as the initial introduction of the delving system is embedded in the forty new missions releasing with the Before the Shadow expansion.

A Compelling and Extensible System

The last guideline was the extensibility of the system. We wanted to make the delving system into something that can extend both forward into future content and back through existing content. We have intentions of adding the system to some older stalwarts and ensuring that they remain part of the mission system as we move forward. This is likely to extend into, at the very least, future 3-man content.

Depending on the engagement with the system, we could even push delvings into 6-person and potentially skirmish content.

The goal is ensure that this new system remains a vibrant and viable system as we continue to build the game.

What to expect when you are delving? – Part 1

To delve or not to delve? That is the question you will need to ask yourself as you engage in the new missions debuting in Before the Shadow.

Mission givers throughout Cardolan, Swanfleet, and Stoorvales provide you with new missions to assist their populace. Near these mission givers you will find the delving barterers who provide you with not only the rewards for completing delvings, but also the means for enabling a delving within a mission.

Beginning a delving requires two things: interacting with a Delving Stone found at the beginning of every new mission in Before the Shadow, and a delving gem. Delving gems can be bartered for from the delving barters or earned through the completion or attempt of a delving. The system works like this:

You will earn a Delving Zircon for completing an initial introductory quest to the new system.

1. Upon entering a mission you will see a Delving Stone near the mission entrance.
2. Do not move too far past the stone as it will despawn, and you will not be able to undertake a delving on this run.
3. Interact with the delving stone and you will see ten options each clearly labelled with a difficulty tier and the gem needed to start the delving.
4. In the first case, you should choose Tier 1: Delving Zircon.
5. Continue the quest and interact with the stone again to confirm your choice.
6. A malice will spread through the area and provide new dastardly skills, abilities, and effects to the monster population in the space. You will receive a cracked version of the gem you just used and the Delving Stone will disappear.
7. This gem can be exchanged to the delving barterer for the non-cracked version of the gem so that you can always attempt the same level of delving again.
8. Proceed to complete your mission – with one small wrinkle – do not leave the mission until it is completed.

What happens if I am defeated?

Like a normal mission, you will return to the beginning of the mission instance and continue on.

What happens if I cannot complete the delving because it is too hard?

You will need to leave the mission. This will cause the delving attempt to fail, but you lose almost nothing because you received the cracked version of the gem that you can barter for the same level of gem from the barterer.

What happens if I complete the mission while attempting a delving?

When you approach the scout to take you out of the mission, the delving will advance. Return to a mission giver with missions that can access delvings and you can complete the delving quest and receive your treasure box, Delving Writs, and the next tier of Delving Gem.

Do I have to progress through each tier of Delving in order?

No. As one of the primary objectives of the system is to allow player autonomy in how to play through the delvings, we are allowing you to barter for whatever tier of Delving Gem you want through the Delving Barterer.

What to expect when you are delving? – Part 2

Now you have a basic understanding of what it means to delve in a mission. So what is really happening?

Each tier of delving spreads crueler and more terrifying malice into the hearts of the denizens in the mission or instance space. As you progress the number of effects, skills, or abilities increases and become more efficacious.

For every tier of difficulty from 1 to 5, monsters add a new skill, ability, or effect. From 6 through 10, the abilities may increase in efficacy or be replaced by something new entirely. In all, these ten tiers will provide a different experience at each tier and will likely require some creative pulling and progression through each of the new missions.

On top of this, the types of abilities, skills, and effects applied to the creatures in the missions changes on a weekly basis.

Additionally, the greater the malice the more dread the space will bestow.

Here is an example of the abilities might see on the monsters inside of a delving:

  • True Cloud of Disease
  • Thickened Hide
  • Fear of Death
  • Diseased Foes
  • Virulent Discharge
  • Explosive Regeneration
  • The Face of Fear
  • Sauron’s Defence
  • Hydra 
  • Sauron’s Eye 
  • Death Cry…

We have created five flavors of skill interactions available to monsters in the different delving tiers that will rotate. We don’t want to spoil everything in this developer diary, but suffice it to say – there are a lot of new abilities to see and we are likely to add many more over time to have a solid rotation of ever changing challenges for you to face.

Did you say that the abilities and skills of monsters rotate?

Yes. Weekly.

What are the maximum number of skills or abilities added to monsters in a delving?

Five. Five is the maximum and one is the minimum.

Wrap it up!

Delvings are an exciting new system we are adding with the release of 40 new missions in Before the Shadow where the player chooses the difficulty they want to attempt and where their risk is matched by their reward. Succeed or fail, you can still try again without fear. Delvings are restricted to 10 attempts per day to ensure the longevity of the system.

Delving barterers should be found near mission recruiters in the Before the Shadow expansion regions and will offer you rewards to strive after should you not get them from the rewards you receive for succeeding.

We look forward to expanding the impact of delvings on all the crossover systems that it impacts and we look forward to seeing how you enjoy the new Delving System in The Lord of the Rings Online: Before the Shadow!

Until next time…
Allan “Orion” Maki