Over the years that the current campaign of Strategic Primer has run, from time to time I’ve had ideas of how to improve the game that I can’t really apply to this campaign. Today’s post is a collection of these ideas, so I can refer to them later, and so that players can discuss whether any of them might be worth implementing in the current campaign despite the discontinuity with previous turns this would entail.
Passage of Time
The first idea is to change the amount of game-world time a turn represents. In the current campaign, a turn is a day, but a fortnight is a year. In the next campaign (whenever that is, if it ever happens), I currently think, a turn will represent a fortnight, a month will be two turns, and perhaps a game-world year might be four months (so eight turns).
If we can manage it, deadlines for each turn would be a good idea.
In extended periods when no (human) player’s results will depend on any other player’s action, or include anything else that would require the player’s specific intervention and attention, the game will allow everyone to “fast-forward” through multiple turns at a time.
A second idea is a different story. (I’ve described the current campaign’s “starting story” here before, so I won’t repeat it now.) In a future campaign, I’ll take inspiration more from Colonization (via FreeCol, and also The Blue Sword): the players will take the roles of the leaders of the colonization of a new world, which can be reliably reached—and then returned from—by sailing through either something like the Bermuda Triangle as popularly conceived or a “Far Side Door”.
The new world would be primarily populated with non-human races; human population would come from immigration and childbearing. Immigration would be the way to get workers with training in comparatively “high-tech” skills.
The players would be able to trade with their “home port,” either by sending their own ships back or by inviting an enterprising countryman to establish a “customs house.” This trade would let them acquire necessities and dispose of excess resources, but at higher cost and for less profit than trade inland or with other players should allow. And while resources from “home” are available at need, they become increasingly expensive and they take time—probably at least four turns, then less as naval technology improves—to arrive.
Unlike the present campaign’s world, this new story would place the players initially along a coast, and as they explored inland they would come closer and closer to a hostile and evil ruler using magic and advanced technology to pursue his own agenda of total domination.
The above necessarily requires a different map than the one used by the current campaign—the players’ headquarters in the current map are spread across a map that is a toroidal (each tile in the top row is adjacent to the corresponding tile in the bottom row, and similarly for the leftmost and rightmost columns) landmass with a few landlocked bodies of water, which is not conducive to a “further up and further in!” colonization-from-the-coast story.
But even without that impetus, I want a map designed to make certain parts of the Judge’s (i.e. Game Master’s) tasks easier. Thus the following (which is my current thinking, of course subject to change if discussion or further thought convinces me of something better).
The map will be divided into regions. Each region is essentially uniform in basic wildlife, composition of bedrock, and the like, to make “classic” encounter tables a reasonable solution to the problem of determining the result of a random encounter (I found them not to be a reasonable model for the current map). Supplementing those “classic” encounter tables, every intelligent settlement (including immortals and Talking Animals) will add a probability, as a function of (adjusted) distance from that settlement, of meeting a unit from the settlement.
Each region will have a “typical encounter level” and “maximum encounter level” defining what kind of wildlife and intelligences there are in that region. Low-level regions, such as those near the coast where the players will start, are quite safe, but hunting won’t be as productive (rabbits and deer, not bison, let alone mammoths, will be typical prey) and recruits (even immigrants from “home”, for the most part) won’t be as skilled or experienced.
Every region has its own unique characteristics, allowing me to determine that a particular native-born worker is from a particular region and then from that deduce some of his or her characteristics (tendency to excel in a particular skill, or to have a pattern of bonuses and penalties to starting stats, for example). This background can also sometimes provide some diplomatic benefits.
For every major “fixture” (fortress, mine, mineral vein, animal lair, orchard, etc.), there will be a distance (in many cases “the region border”) at which every visitor to the region knows that something is there, a distance at which every visitor knows what general kind of thing is there (“mine”, for example), and a distance at which every visitor knows most details (e.g. what mineral can be mined there).
The world will not wrap, as the current map does: ice will prevent travel to the north and south (though once players have technology to pass it, I might make the map wrap that way to make things simpler), travel by sea to the east will take units “home” again, and travel to the west will be hampered by increasingly wild and challenging regions.
Unlike the current map, where individual towns (and villages in great numbers) can swear allegiance to a player but there’s no real notion (in the map itself) of ownership of terrain, the next campaign’s map will keep track of “allegiance” primarily by region, but that will be able to be “vacant,” “shared,” or “disputed,” and individual towns (especially of larger size) can maintain different allegiance than the region as a whole.
That allegiance may spread by “force of culture,” in a manner similar to “cultural borders” in Civilization 4.
To simplify pathfinding, distance calculations, and the like, tiles and probably regions will be hexagonal rather than square. (One open question is what to do with border areas that don’t fit, if we go with hexagonal regions—it is not possible to tessellate a hexagon with hexagons with no overlap and no area left over.)
And the main reason for organizing the map into regions is that I don’t have to design the whole map at the beginning; if the map is five regions tall, I can design the coastal regions and the regions adjacent to those in detail, and decide on the basic parameters for the next two ranks inland, but I can leave everything beyond what the players are likely to need to know in the next few turns to the mists until later. And even more importantly, even when I “know” the contents of many regions, when I’m dealing with one region the map viewer (among other programs) doesn’t have to deal with more than that region and those that border it.
In the current campaign, there is no designated currency, and players’ workers and soldiers work “for free”—the player must feed them, house them (I plan to start checking that there’s enough room turn-after-next), and eventually clothe them and supply other needs, but they demand no wages. And the “player character” is not counted in these requirements. Players are free to coin money, and to use coins that they find in hidden treasures or in ruins they explore, for a medium of exchange, but there’s no standard system to start with.
In future campaigns, there will be at least one defined currency, and workers will want wages in addition to room, board, clothing, etc. These wages will be proportional to the workers’ skill level and to the difficulty of the jobs they are assigned to do, and inversely proportional to morale (though relatively high wages would tend to improve morale). Some of these wages may be spent in a “company store,” making them less of a guaranteed net loss for the player’s treasury.
And the “player character” will become a more ordinary “worker” as far as the game is concerned, requiring resources like any other (except wages). And his or her time must be accounted for (limiting the pace of scientific advancement via the “bootstrapping” mechanic and the complexity of daily and standing orders, which the “player character” must generally read out regularly). In compensation for this, the “player character” can “pitch in” on jobs around headquarters as needed, or even travel (though headquarters functions like any other fortress, requiring time to transmit orders and results, until his or her return).
Players will still be able to design their headquarters fortress and have it more or less complete in the first turn (see also below), but their design will be limited by more than just material sand technological knowledge. On the gripping hand, though, the more money, resources, and man-hours that are spent on it, the better the player’s knowledge of the surrounding area, representing the player’s “advance party” arriving and founding the settlement earlier.
I may increase the rate at which food is consumed. I would certainly do so if I weren’t changing the length of a turn and of a year, but I’ll have to do some calculations to see if those changes address the imbalances between production and consumption enough.
In at least some areas, firewood (or some equivalent source of warmth) will be required every turn (or most turns), in addition to food, living space, and wages.
With a treasury full of coin and currency, players will be able to budget money to pay for extra labor, to speed construction of a large building or the clearing of a forest, for example. They would also be able to conscript labor from their vassals, of course, but that would hurt morale.
Because of the longer turns, there will be some automatic “mail delivery” that (slowly) passes orders, results, and (minimal) supplies via allied villages, out to a certain distance. That distance will probably be within each region, plus to major cities and fortresses in adjacent or nearby regions. Players will use couriers (messengers) to improve speed and reliability, and to get intelligence about the areas they pass through.
In contrast to the current campaign’s system of counting turns from “the first” but numbering them from zero, with turn #0 being special, future campaigns will have a special “zeroth” turn in which the headquarters fortress is built and its surroundings are explored, but no directed exploration, hunting, or anything like that is done, and no resources are consumed except what is used in building the fortress. All that starts on “the first turn,” “turn #1.”
I may increase the requirements for gaining advances, especially nontrivial ones, to include a prototype or equivalent. (In other words, that a Skill be taught, a General Advance disseminated and understood, and an Implement prototyped, possibly in miniature.) All this would be at a cost in time (remember that the time of the “player character” will be accounted for like any worker) and resources, especially paper, parchment, or equivalent.
I expect to model recruitment (population growth) based on what a settlement can support—including food, living space, clothing, and wages, but also command structure—but also based on morale and something like Colonization‘s “crosses.” Immigration from “home” will be initially somewhat high, tapering off as time goes on, but with additional bursts for additional settlements by arrangement with the “home” government (who are otherwise “hands-off”).
Worker Advancement Model
Here are some ideas for how the worker advancement model might work. Workers (including soldiers) would have a “character” level, which is the basis for their number of “hit dice,” their “stats,” and any “class features” if they’re in a Job or class that includes character-level-based progression.
A worker will be able to gain a character level in any of three ways:
First, by combat experience, as in an RPG or wargame with character levels and a combat-experience mechanic.
Second, by skill advancement. Each level in a Job or class automatically grants a minimum number of ranks in a certain set of skills; achieving all, or a designated subset, of those skill ranks while at the previous level gives the worker a level in that Job. (I haven’t yet decided what to do about when a character qualifies for one level in multiple similar Jobs at once—I don’t want to let a worker skip ahead too fast by exploiting loopholes, but I also don’t want to set up a system that penalizes a worker for working in similar Jobs in succession.)
Skill advancement will, because turns will be much longer, work somewhat differently from the current campaign. Each skill level will be equivalent to one “rank” in the d20 system. Every time the worker uses a skill, there’ll be a set “DC” that must be met for the worker to advance in the skill directly being used and in other related skills. For every hour worked, we’ll roll (I think) a d20 for the skill directly being used, and a d20 – 10 for other related skills. If any roll is higher than the respective DC, the worker gains a level (rank) in that skill.
DCs are higher the more experienced the worker is in a skill (it’s easier for a bad or mediocre worker to significantly and measurably improve than an expert), but (not as much) lower if the worker is more experienced in other related skills. And DCs decrease over time as the worker fails to meet them.
And third, time. After a certain amount of time elapses from the last time the worker gained a character level in any of these ways (and only days in which the worker works count), the worker gains a character level. But unlike the other two ways, this level grants only health and “stat” boosts, not skills or “class features”—it’s a character level, not a level in a Job or class. And when the worker next gains a level via combat or skill progression, that will grant only skills and any relevant “class features,” not health or “stats.”
As I develop this more, I intend to think through the possibilities of classless or “less rigidly class-ified” systems. And I may look for or try to develop a more simplified set of “stats” for each worker to have.
The Starting Package of advances that is given to all players when they join will be reworked; there are some advances that definitely belong in it but didn’t when this campaign started (and Food Gatherer still isn’t in it … I’ll fix that soon), while there are some that are currently in it but shouldn’t be. Those I won’t remove yet (it wouldn’t be fair to any players who join this campaign in the future), but they will be removed in future campaigns.
The collection of resources that players start with will be somewhat different, and for the most part smaller. I haven’t thought through all the details yet, but as always it is intended to give the player a good start until his or her own production of the resources gets going, so the additional costs will be accounted for. Furthermore, as I allowed one “AI” player to do in the current campaign, players will be able to do some trading of resources they won’t use much of for resources they need more of, to produce a custom “starting package of resources.”
Players’ headquarters will begin with significantly more workers than they did in the current campaign: at least fifty, if not a hundred, I think.
All workers that come to a fortress, except as part of a levy, will have at least some experience (probably “a year’s experience”), and probably a level, in some Job. Those the player starts with (unless he or she opts otherwise, as per the next paragraph) will start with either two or three levels (I’m not yet sure which), of the player’s choice (unlike those who ask to join a fortress population), though each starting worker has to have at least one Job level related to what the worker is assigned to do in the first turn.
Returning players may, at their choice, bring individual workers from a previous campaign in place of newly-generated ones (the choice must be made before seeing the stats of the new ones they replace). If a new campaign were to start today I don’t think this would be a wise decision in most cases, but if the current campaign continues for more than another game-world year it might well.
In addition, returning players may (as in “the second campaign,” which failed to even run a single turn) immediately gain in “the zeroth turn” any advance they had in a previous campaign for which I feel their “blueprint” on file (which they may supplement at the time) is up to the standards of the new campaign.
As well as advances, the standard (or a “custom”) collection of resources, and workers, players may also bring a small number of small (technological) artifacts that are far more advanced than their engineers will be able to make any time soon. (A modern pistol with one clip of bullets, or a sextant, or a laser level, for example.)
There are several improvements that I want to make to the user interface of the “assistive programs” suite before any future campaign starts. I’d like to get most of them in place in the current campaign, but I doubt that’s possible any time soon.
First, to alleviate the problem that a strategy takes too long to prepare (it’s hard to do well in one sitting), but doing so isn’t easily broken up into more manageable tasks, and it’s so complicated that it’s not easy to put it down and pick it up again later, I want a program to show the player a graphical representation of his or her fortress(es), preferably based on the plan the player designed, and assign workers by dragging them to the various buildings. It should also let the player see existing orders and previous results for one building or section at a time.
Second, tying in with that, I want to create a program to help a player to design a fortress plan, producing a format that the other programs in the suite can read and use.
And third, I want to make some better way of showing advances and the possibilities they offer to the player.
In addition to these improvements to the user interface of the programs, I want to make each turn’s results include an “executive summary” as well as the detailed report, and allow “simplicity-minded players” to merely list the projects they want worked on and how many workers (or man-days) to assign to each project and leave the rest to be decided by aides.
Unlike the current campaign, which has more “AI” players than “human players,” the next campaign will have at most two “AI players.” (Plus “independents” in the areas the players are active in and adjacent regions, and eventually the Enemy. Whose strength and expanse I’ll keep track of, like the REF in Colonization or the “AI Progress” in AI War, but for whom I won’t “run” strategies until the players get a lot closer.
I want to add something like Colonization‘s Founding Fathers or the “social policies” of Civilization V. This will probably hook into specialties, and having high morale would probably be one (or the) way to speed the accumulation of whatever-we-call-these, but I want to make different choices, orthogonal to specialties, equally valid but distinct and different.
As an extension to my “Global Exposition” idea, each region will have an (annual?) Fair, and send its champions to compete against those of neighboring (but not enemy) regions.
Every tile or hex will have at least some population.
For future campaigns, I intend to revise the text of advances (including most notably crops) to include approximate productivity figures. I also intend to determine the model for agriculture and statistics for animals (etc.) beforehand, rather than scrambling, as I tend to do now, to come up with figures when the need arises. And I intend to use those figures to create a program to produce approximately correct results given values for input variables, like the “AutoChart” program I had in the first campaign.
I will most likely add “buildings” back as an advance category (see the “history of technical categories”), perhaps as the domestic equivalent of Suggested Unit Configurations.
Do you have any thoughts about any of these ideas, or other suggestions to make for future (or current) campaigns?