Pax Victoria

June 7, 2012

A bit of 2000AD influence here, but the concept for Pax Victoria is an isolated colony world, where a trillionaire businesswoman has established herself as Queen-Emperor Victoria II for a couple of centuries.  Funded by a monopoly on sales of Blood Diamonds harvested from fearsome leviathans of the ocean deeps, Victoria II has established a romanticised neo-Victorian colony world.  The upper tier of aristocracy have access to galactic technology, imported from off-world and maintained by the “Butler” class.  The other colonists are restricted to pre-1900 technology, except for a few educational and medicinal facilities.  So the colony is mainly steam-powered, save for the shuttle port (which galactic regulations require to have modern facilities for dealing with lost and damaged starships, so it has a small atomic power plant).

Victoria II has had a long reign, and through life extension technology she has celebrated a 200 year jubilee.  From time to time she has taken lovers as Prince Consorts, before plunging into decade long bouts of mourning following the consorts tragic early demise.  Her children, the darling princelings, have grown into administrative duties as they have matured.  The local natives are convinced of the divine origins of the off-worlders, and have signed a number of unfavourable 999 year leases, but nothing so bad as to trigger the anti-slavery clauses in the Galactic Constitution.  So while some rebels do strike from the jungles, the Sepoy units of the Imperial Army are usually sufficient to defeat them, and if not, the Imperial Guard has the Maxim Machine Gun 3000, and they do not.

Sadly, the beloved Victoria II has died after a decade long coma.  Tragically, she has neglected to name any of her children as her heir.  The Parliament she established so she could preside over ceremonial openings and closings has little power, although it is seen as a means for the common voter to express their will, all attempts at reform have been crushed by the conservative Lords.  So as the Queen lay dying, her children began plotting their own path to power…

Sequence of Events

Two weeks before the game night, I want teams to be determined and players mailed the background information and first set of options for team decision-making.  I want the teams to be making decisions in three areas:

  1. Their victory objectives for the game.
  2. Their stance on political issues relating to the status quo or societal change.
  3. Their preferred options for force build up.

Victory Objectives

The minimum goal players can select is an inherently defensive one – preservation of their sovereign independence and the territory they control at the start of the game.  Ambitious players can select stretch goals, which could include:

  • build a navy, army, or air force that is stronger than adjacent states/any state/any other two states combined
  • gain control of one/many/all the Blood Diamond harvest zones
  • gain the submission of one/many/all other states
  • capture capitals, forts and other key locations (individual hexes)
  • gain control of all ports in the inner/outer/all seas
  • gain control of the full length of the continental rail networks
  • gain control of disputed territory.

For each stretch goal, you gain an extra option point, but also acquire a victory point penalty (i.e. if you go for Napoleonic world conquest and fail, then you will lose the game of grand strategy, while someone choosing a Switzerland approach may find their goals easier to obtain).  I will describe these in qualitative terms, I will keep the maths hidden until the end of the game.  I would probably have some threshold effects, such as gain +1 action token per additional state you conquer so that world conquest is possible (if not exactly probable) so that players choosing that gamble should at least have a fun time executing it.

Political Issues

The players are Lords.  They run their states like petty fiefdoms.  This does not make them popular, but the players can choose between political stances that will increase or reduce the stability of their states.  Stability will change the chance of either the natives rebelling against the humans, or the common humans attempting a revolution to take power of their own.  Some stances may also change the number of option points available.  The final set of political stances will also determine how many victory points it costs to ally with other players (the greater the difference in stances, the higher the victory point cost).

Some of the stances could involve tradeoffs between:

  • secret police or free newspapers
  • votes for natives
  • independent centres of education
  • maintaining horse cavalry or building an airforce
  • conscription or volunteer armies
  • free trade or protective tariffs
  • allowing free industrial development or maintaining central economic planning
  • supporting the World Empire or balkanisation of the colony.

A stable state may not be as powerful, but it will not be home to the first rebellion/revolution (which is how I can respawn into the game any players whose states are conquered by other teams early in the game).

Options

Options represent an investment of energy, leadership and labour in preparing for the end of the Pax Victoria.  Most of the options are things players will want to do, but it will be impossible to do all of them.  The teams will each pick an option every day in the lead up to the game night (hopefully by consensus, if they disagree I would pick one randomly and reduce state stability).  The earlier a team picks an option, the more powerful it will be for them in the game.  For example, setting up a spy agency early on gives you a lot of spies in the game.  Setting up a spy agency as your last option gives you a small, pitifully underfunded agency.

Options could include:

  • building up the size of the army, navy or airforce
  • artillery or tanks
  • fighters or bombers
  • building up the quality of the army, navy, or airforce
  • spies
  • building various elite units (Guards, Marines, Airborne)
  • expanding Blood Diamond harvesting operations
  • completing railway/canal engineering mega-projects
  • fortresses and other static defences
  • naval bases
  • improving logistics, HQ staff

The goal would be to minimise the chance of one option being a clear game winner.  Ideally at the start of the game the different teams will have a mix of forces and abilities that avoid them being carbon copies of each other.

Geography

The design intent is to make Naval power much more important than it was in Flower Power.  The idea is to borrow and adjust the Circle Sea setting from Andrew Vallance’s epic play-by-mail game of yesteryear.  So imagine an ocean on a water world.  Now imagine a comet smacking into the world.  The crater that is left behind leaves a dimple island in the middle, with an outer circle of the crater wall.  Have a couple of straits eroded in the walls and you have two long crescents of land.  Each of the two continents have five teams of players on it.  Each team has at least one land neighbour, and usually 2-3, and has naval ports bordering on two oceans.

So players have some big choices to make.  It will be impossible for any team to have both a superior inner sea navy and an outer sea navy, and an army/air force superior to all of their neighbours.  Each state will be weak somewhere.  This should encourage diplomacy, alliances … and betrayal.

Combat

Ground combat will be attrition based in outcomes, resulting in small amounts of positional movement and army losses.  As long as a state has selected options that allow them to train and equip replacements faster than they take losses, their army will remain solidly on the field (unless backed into a corner and forced to retreat, or if being attacked by more than one player at a time).  Ground combat is at the Army level, with elite corps sized units.  Each Army has around ten tokens, which are placed in hexes to represent “front lines”.

The airforce will play a role in supporting army/navy combat, unless a state decides to spend a stupendous number of option points developing a strategic bomber force.

Naval combat is based on having superiority in a sea zone, and is much more likely to result in a decisive battle than ground combat.  Outnumbered naval forces will tend to hide in fortified naval bases, only poking their heads out to do raids.  Naval combat is at the squadron/fleet level.

Turns and Actions

We probably have two map tables for land operations, and a third map table for naval operations.  Assuming a 20 minute turn and 30 players, so 10 players per table, if turns can be executed in 30 seconds, players can be allowed four actions per turn.  If they take a minute to complete, then two actions per turn.  To help focus players, we probably make it hard for states to have more than three combat units per player.

Using a HAT system, each state gets a number of tokens equal to its number of players, plus some tokens based on options.  The default token is “Hasty Assault” (i.e. extra casualties for the attacker), but depending on how the state spent options it may get different, or additional tokens such as “Supply”, “Prepared Defence” (i.e. reduce defender losses if attacked, increase attacker losses) and “Prepared Assault” (i.e. bonus for artillery).

Exhaustion: once an army has attacked, it is exhausted.  It cannot attack again until either the next game turn starts, or some logistic resources are expended in a supply action.  It also suffers a penalty if attacked.  This should make players less frantic to be the first to move … so when a team is called up for an action, they have a few seconds in which they can choose to pass and wait.  In some ways, executing the last move can be advantageous (so the end of the game turn may be 20 minutes +30-120 seconds at random).

 

Anyhow, that is one possible scenario for next year’s Grand Strategy game.


Texarkana’s Top Ten Tips for Star Wars the Old Republic

December 10, 2011

This advice is based on the mistakes I made in a Beta weekend, and the most frequent “WTF?!” questions in general/guild chat.

1. Advanced Class

At level 10 your character will get an option of choosing one of two classes (e.g. the Sith Inquisitor can choose between the Sorcerer or the Assassin).  This is a permanent, non-reversible choice.  While you can reset your class talents in the game, the ability to change Advanced Class is not in the game, and might never be an option in the game.  If you get this choice wrong, you will have to replay the character from level 1.

Related to this, make sure to train your advanced class skills when you level up.  Advanced class skills are not displayed on the same page as your standard class skills, you need to hit a tab to bring up the advanced class skills.  Don’t be the guy in a mid-teens heroic group/flashpoint, who has to spend twenty minutes running back to the trainer.  Speaking of which, its probably worth checking the first time you do a flashpoint that everyone in the group has trained their advanced class skills.

2. Modifiable Gear.

You want to keep modifiable gear.  Its called “Custom Gear” and its identifying colour in game is orange (yes, that’s the same colour as almost-impossible-to-get legendary gear in WoW).  By adding modules into modifiable gear, low level items can remain competitive as you level.  So if you like the look of something, you can keep it, rather than having to vendor it two levels later to equip something with better stats.  You should get a class weapon that is modifiable on the way to Level 10 (for Jedi/Sith its a lightsabre).

To get modules, you will need an appropriate crafting skill, be friends with a crafter, or be willing to spend credits on modules for sale in the Galactic Market Kiosk (the Auction house).  You may see people refer to the Galactic Market as “GM”, which in other games would be a “Game Master”, well, not here.

3. Bind Point Reset.

When you move to a new world, your bind point (what would be a hearth stone in WoW), resets to the bind point at the new world’s starport.  So if you move from Coruscant to Taris, and hit your quick travel ability to jump to the bind point, you will end up on Trais, not Coruscant, even if Coruscant was the last place you deliberately set your bind point to.  Quick travel has a 30 minute cooldown, so wasting it is annoying. Edit: bind points appear a bit more useful, when you use quick travel you get to choose which bidn point you want to go to on that world.

4. Time is Money.

One of the most effective things you can do to boost enjoyment of an MMORPG, is to ensure your character minimises travel time between locations on the game map.

Your starship is free, all you have to do is compete your class quests, and you should get it around level 15-16.  Upgrades will cost you a bit though (see below).  At Level 14 you will also get a 35 percent sprint/run ability while you are not engaged in combat, so its worth handing some quests in and going back to the class trainer when that happens.

At level 25, you can spend credits to purchase a speeder from a vendor (on most worlds or at your faction’s Fleet Headquarters).  Rank 1 training grants a 90 percent speed boost and costs 40,000 credits, so you will want to have that much cash on hand when you reach Level 25.  The speeder itself costs 8,000 credits (and if you purchased the Collector’s Edition you may want to save for the VIP speeder that costs 1.5 million credits).  At Levels 40 and 50, you can purchase Rank 2 and 3 training for 100 and 110 percent speed increases (and you’ll want to have a pile of credits for this too).

Somewhat related, its worth spending a few credits on increasing your inventory space.  The more you can carry the less often you have to stop questing and run to the vendors (and if you have your crew busy crafting and missioning while you are questing, your bags can fill with stuff quickly).

5. Ships, Ship Upgrades and Ship Quests.

My main advice here, is don’t try a ship combat mission without spending a few thousand credits on basic ship upgrades.  Having more health, shields and weapons makes the missions significantly easier.  Every quest I tried without upgrades installed was a complete failure.

While ships act as player housing, customisation is limited, the interior is unchangeable, but you can buy upgrades to improve your odds in combat.  These are purchased from vendors at your Fleet Headquarters, but you actually need to take the upgrades back to your ship and then click on them to install them in your ship.

Ship quests can be picked up on board your ship.  Ship quests are rail quests, and have been likened to an old computer game called “Starfox” (not one I played, but maybe you get the reference).  Your ship follows exactly the same path through the mission zone, you have a limited ability to move up/down or left/right to avoid debris/asteroids/attacks, but mainly its about effectively targeting all the enemy ships and turning them into pixelated explosions.  Hold the mouse button down to get continuous fire, unless you enjoy clicking mouse buttons three times a second.

Battles are short (under five minutes), not really PVP, earn you credits/XP and can fill time while you wait for other people to do stuff.

6. Crewskills

First, take a look at the guide here: http://www.skeletonjack.com/guides/crew-skills-for-swtor-made-simple/. Its the best one I have seen so far for gathering/crafting/mission skills in SWTOR (also called crewskills, as you get your crew/companions to do the work, as the designers said “Darth Vader doesn’t farm”).

“If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive.”

If you want to make easy credits, take Slicing.  I have seen several people say that its the fastest way to make easy credits while levelling.  Edit: the credits from slicing appear to have been balanced in line with other professions.  Otherwise you can choose to be able to make yourself weapons or armour, but not both (at least on the same character, profession self-sufficiency is a major reason to level alts to support a main character).  For the other skills my advice is:

Mission skills – don’t take these if you can’t stand unpredictable outcomes.

Armormech/Armstech – don’t take these if you are a force using class.

Artifice/Synthweaving – don’t take these if you are a non-force using class.

My expectations of the early game economy is that it will resemble a frontier/mining camp economy.  Prices for everything will be ludicrously high in the first few weeks as people level their craft skills as rapidly as possible, while flicking the junk they have made onto unsuspecting marks for rip-off prices.  I would recommend not buying anything off the GMK until you have you first speeder.

7. Companions

You should have one companion by Level 10 and a protocol droid companion on your ship when you get that around level 15-16.  In my experience, companions work well out of the box, but its worth taking the time to learn a bit about your companion and what it can do.  This pays off in social conversations, as you will have a better idea of what will gain/lose you favour with your companion.

Remember to upgrade the armor and weapons your companion has equipped (your protocol droid probably does not have a weapon when you first get it).

8. Quest rewards

You will often get a choice between an item of equipment, a lock box, commendations or equipment for companions.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here.  Going for commendations will usually allow you to get one or more blue quality items by the time you finish a zone.  Commendations can also be exchanged in at vendors, on a 2:1 basis, for a higher tier of commendations, so they are not completely wasted if you forget to spend them. But a solid green item upgrade now, can be worth more than a blue upgrade later.

A lockbox will get you a random item, could be good, could be crap.

Companion items can be useful, in that they will change the appearance of your companion, so that it does not look quite so much like the thousand other identical looking companions wandering the galaxy.  In beta, I found it hard to find upgrades for companions, so be careful about passing over companion items.

9. Courtesy. 

Treat others as you would like to be treated.  Unlike WoW, SWTOR does not have an anonymous tool for quickly forming random groups for instanced content.  If you spend a lot of time and effort alienating the other players on your server by acting like a dick, you will end up sitting alone in your spaceship.  Remember that the behaviour you choose to display in game can get your account suspended or terminated.

My two specific tips here:

(1) in groups, do not roll need on an item unless it is an item you can use, and which is optimised for use by your class (if you pay attention to your quest rewards, you should figure out quickly what stats are optimal for each class).

(2) if you say you want to do a flashpoint/heroic group with someone, go and do it with them, do not make them wait for 30 minutes while you “finish just a few more quests”, “hand in just one more quest”, “Ooops, forgot to go to the trainer”, or “Hey, I forgot I have to make dinner, BRB”.

10. Patience.

Enjoy the journey in SWTOR, but have a Plan B for when the servers fall over/go offline for maintenance, or you have to wait for other people.  I’ll be downloading a few extra books onto my Kindle to cope with any SWTOR withdrawal symptoms.