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The Inquisition (and how to make sure nobody expects them)

Hi everyone, Oliver here. Today’s blog is about the design – and the design challenges – of one crucial part of your Imperial intelligence network: the Imperial Inquisition.

The Inquisition are an elite group of highly-trained characters, able and licensed to arrest and prosecute the highest-ranking aristocrats in the Empire. They are your most precise and deadly weapon against treacherous underlings. But with great power comes great responsibility – responsibility even the Sun Emperor cannot override. The Inquisition, when they interrogate a suspect, will find the truth – even if that truth is not what you thought or hoped it would be. And, if the suspect is innocent, they will be free – and extremely angry.

The first design problem, building the Inquisition, is to make sure they don’t step on the corruption- and secret-hunting gameplay I described in my last post on the Intrigue system. They provide the payoff – they’re how you find out whether or not your reasoning (or guesswork) was correct – but you mustn’t simply be able to sic them on every character who looks at you funny. Thus, they always find the truth, but setting them on an innocent character will turn that character implacably against you. If that isn’t enough to stop Inquisitor-spam displacing interesting detective work, we might make you pay compensation to innocent victims of Inquisitorial investigation.

The second problem is how ‘human’ to make them. Can any character become an Inquisitor? If they’re simply ciphers who do your bidding, there’s not much point having them at all. The solution we’ve settled on for the first iteration is that any character can, with your permission and years of training, become an Inquisitor – and that their relationships with characters will affect how likely they are to catch them if assigned to interrogate them. An Inquisitor would never come up with false results in an interrogation, but the target might suddenly take a long holiday on a fast ship just before their friend the Inquisitor arrives. So your assignment of Inquisitors will depend on how much you trust them to get the job done.

One of the problems the Inquisitor system solves is the question of how to give you control over your information and intelligence flow. By assigning Inquisitors to monitor particular territories, you can receive more information than you otherwise would about that planet, system, or province – the smaller the territory, the better the information you’ll get on it. This also helps make the Inquisitor-assignment gameplay interesting: where will it be useful for this particular Inquisitor to be? Where do you need good information? Who do you want them to be near to, just in case? One thing we might do is increase Inquisitors’ flow of Secrets from characters they’ve got good relations with, making placing Inquisitors in their friends’ territories a double-edged sword – more likely to produce information, but less likely to catch wrongdoers if you ask them to.

Two options for Inquisitorial work is not quite enough to make the choice of assignment interesting, however. The final piece of the puzzle (at least in the design for the first full alpha) is military commissar duty. By assigning an Inquisitor as a military commissar, you can reduce that Force’s chance of rebelling – but at the price of slowly degrading it, as officers get Inquisited and troops desert to escape the suddenly hostile work environment. Can you afford that cost, for loyalty? Can you afford not to pay it? The commissar system adds another interesting aspect to your military decision-making.

The key thing to understand about all this, though, is that it’s provisional. This is what we’re going to implement for the first alpha – after we (and our testers) have tried it, and seen how well it works, we might well find it’s either too much, or not enough. Perhaps we’ll need to give Inquisitors another function; perhaps they ought to be able to investigate corruption on their own; or perhaps they’ll turn out to be a layer of mechanics we don’t need at all. I hope we’ve got it right first time round, but the proof of the pudding’s in the eating.

I hope this post has let you see a little bit of the sort of thought processes we go through as we’re designing Imperia. In the next post, Steve will be talking about UI design, and how we’re reworking it from the bottom up.

Ave Imperator!


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Edicts to Projects: What it means, and why it’s better: PART II

Good morning everyone! I hope the weather’s as nice where you are as it is here – in Texas, clear skies and 50 degree weather is about as good as it gets in January, so we’ll take it!

Anyway, in this second part of the Project post I’ll talk about corruption and what you can do to overcome it. When a character (contributor) commits to give money and ADM (short for ‘administrative points’, which is an abstraction for the men, supplies, construction machines, ships, transports, and logistical support needed to complete a Project) they only commit to a value that they could give, not that they will give. Depending on their attitude towards you, the Project, and the House that most benefits, they may choose to use their ADM to undermine rather than advance the project – and corrupt characters may even steal money from the pot rather than contribute to it.

You will get an alert from your Intel Prime if a Project is delayed due to less-than-expected ADM support, or if money is being stolen from it. At that point, you know you have a thief on your hands, but you don’t know which ‘contributor’ it is. The first thing to do is to take a closer look at who is part of the Project. When you select a character, you will see their public Honor rating, which is an indication of how likely they are to honor their obligations and not steal. Another factor that indicates how likely characters are to steal from a project is a hidden stat called Cover. Cover on a Project basically makes it easier for someone to steal, since it is theoretically harder to determine who was stealing if there are several characters who might be capable. Characters with high Honor generate a low Cover for the Project (since they are publically considered upright people, they generally are above suspicion) while lower-Honor characters generate more Cover (since they might be also considered people who would steal). Projects with a high aggregate Cover rating are much more likely to be stolen from.

(The reason we keep the Cover number hidden is that it’s a model for something that ought to make sense on a purely human level – if all but one of the participants are upstanding citizens, the one corrupt member probably won’t dare to make a move. One of the things we want to avoid here is overexposing the workings of the characters during play. This is a mistake Black & White II made when it showed you the mathematical innards of your Creature – it broke the illusion that it was actually, well, a creature. We want to avoid the same problem with our characters if we can.)

So what you can do? If you think you know who’s doing the deed, you can set your Inquisitors on them, but beware – they will find the truth. If the accused is guilty, you’ll be able to sentence them, and replace them on the Project. But if they aren’t, they’ll be free – and extremely angry. So you have to be subtle. On the Intrigue screen, you can look through each character’s history of Project, War Plan, and Plot participation. It might be that one character stands out as having a history of corruption – but perhaps multiple characters might. In that case, you may have to resort to entrapment: put together your Projects carefully, in the hope of tempting your suspects into stealing from a Project full of people you’re either sure are clean or have bribed, blackmailed or intimidated into staying clean on that Project. Alternatively, you could simply be careful only to employ your suspects in Projects where they won’t dare steal. Choose wisely!

Next: Pops – what’s changed, and Ideas – what they are!