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It’s Time To Plot… But Not what you Think!

Hello everyone! Steve here, with a new dev diary. I know, it’s been a little while, but I’ve been busy with putting out some quality of life updates and bug fixes. It’s almost time to start a whole new system… and I’m super excited!

For the next several weeks, I’m going to be talking about the next major system to be installed in AotSS – the intel system! Some of the initial parts have already been completed, such as rolling intel on character’s traits and skills, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Plots, Rumors, and Secrets are about to come in a big way!

Let’s talk about Plots first. Despite the nefarious-sounding name, Plots are not necessarily always about killing the Emperor. (Though they certainly can be!) Think of it like something that a Character wants to accomplish within the game. It can be as simple as acquiring a title, all the way to knocking off a House Leader or even you!

A Plot has 4 parts:  Target (what they want to accomplish/get/achieve), Help (who they can get to assist them with it), Method (what strategy(ies) they are willing to use to accomplish it)  and Time (how long they are willing to take to accomplish the Plot). Plots generate Secrets (intel that can be gained to uncover a Plot) and Rumors (intel that can lead to discover who is involved, but are not as reliable as Secrets).

Let’s see how this system works with a real-world example. Say a Character wakes up one fine morning and they decide they want to get a new job that pays better than their own job. That’s their Target. Their Help would be possibly their friends, their LinkedIn contacts, their former bosses, their family, etc. They need to get a new job within a month, and will stop looking if they don’t find a better job after that time. That’s Time. Depending on what kind of person they are and the skills they have, they might go on a spate of interviews, carefully target one company that they really want to work for, or even start a rumor that gets someone fired from the job that they want, and then they arrive to save the day! That’s Method.

Now, during all this, if their best friend who is actively helping them get in the door tells someone about their job search, that’s a Secret. They have first-hand information about the Plot (since they’re part of it) and thus anyone investigating what they’re doing can plug in that information to better understand what’s happening. If, however, my coworker heard from their coworker who heard from their best friend that they were looking for a job, that’s a Rumor. It might be true, or it might not. Think of it as potentially flawed information.

So, if I’m an Emperor trying to figure out what this Character is doing (since they are hostile to me, for example, and have a high Power) I would begin by possibly sending an Inquisitor Squad to their planet to investigate. They will then pick up Rumors and Secrets, and slowly they will begin to fill in any Plots that they might be hatching. There are 4 levels of intel to Plots:

  • No Plot Intel means that there is no knowledge whatsoever, and it won’t even show up in their Plot Panel as an option to track.
  • Basic Plot Intel means that there is knowledge that a Plot exists, and you can start to investigate people attached to that Plot.
  • Moderate Plot Intel means that there is enough information about the Plot to act – meaning you have at least the Target and Help. Time and Method are optional, but the more you know the better chance you have to stop the Plot.
  • Max Plot Intel means that you know everything about the Plot with full accuracy, meaning that either someone confessed, or the Plot was stopped.

So, returning to our above example, let’s say that I was suspicious about this Character, and I thought he was trying to start a Plot to kill me or someone close to me. So, I set an Inquisitor Squad to the planet where he currently is, with orders to ‘Investigate a Possible Plot’. This is the default order when you have no knowledge of a Plot. After 2-3 turns, they might uncover a Secret or a Rumor. That info gets added to the Plot Log and would look something like this:

Viceroy Biggs is trying to get a new job that is better than the old one. We have heard that System Governor Blossom may be included in this Plot.”

So there can be up to 4 ‘pieces’ of intel per Plot. Green means that it is a Secret (high confidence) while Yellow means that the intel is a Rumor (low confidence) This would be a Moderate Plot Intel because while you know that a Plot exists, you have a Target, and Help, even if it’s not confident.

Once you believe you have at least a Moderate Intel Plot, you can act by either doing nothing, attempting to blackmail the parties involved, or if the plot is Illegal, having them openly arrested. At that point, an Inquiry is held, led by the Grand Inquisitor. If the Character is found guilty, they are executed or imprisoned depending on the Severity of the Plot. If the Character is found innocent, they are freed, you lose an amount of Power consummate with the Characters that you set to Inquiry, and they will have a huge grudge against you, as well as a nice Power boost representing public anger at your high-handed tactics.

So in the above example, since it is a Moderate Intel Plot, you are free to act on it, but if you’re wrong and you send an Inquisitor Squad to arrest the people ‘involved’ and it turns out after an Inquiry that you were wrong… sometimes the risk is too great even compared to doing nothing. But if you wait too long for further evidence, you risk the Plot developing and completing, doing what it’s supposed to do… even if the Target is you.

Another way to gain Secrets and Rumors is by talking to Characters who you think may be connected to the Plot. When you “Get to Know Character”, depending on their skills, they may just tell you something that adds to a Plot Intel – maybe one you didn’t even know was brewing!

The more you devote towards Intel, the more Inquisitor Squads you can train and maintain, as well as having a stronger low-level intel net. You will get Alerts about new Plot info, and a Critical Alert when a Plot moves to Max Intel or Moderate Intel.

So that’s the basic system about Plots – more to come soon! Enjoy!

-Steve

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Secrets and Lies – The Intrigue System

No game about Machiavellian scheming, least of all one modelled on the Byzantine empire, would be complete without a fully-fleshed-out intrigue and espionage system! In Imperia, we aim to go beyond the usual ‘stick a spy in a place and wait to know things/do stuff’ routine that usually makes up espionage systems in 4X games. Those systems have very simple, rather boring feedback loops: you pays your money and you takes your chances, maybe with a simple upgrade-your-spooks mechanism tacked on. Our system, on the other hand, is built right into the fabric of the game.

The Imperia intrigue system has two main ‘legs’: the way Edicts work (Edicts being the way you build fleets, develop your worlds, and generally do things that fall under ‘exploit’ in the 5X quinity) and the Secrets system. Now your Empire is crumbling, corrupt, and under the sway of numberless light-fingered lordlings, and the Edict system reflects that. Rather than simply paying for, say, a new planetary mining network yourself, you assign a number of characters to carry out the construction. These characters contribute resources, administrative clout, and money to a central ‘pool’; once the requisite amounts have been amassed, the mining network is established! So far, so good – BUT. The characters aren’t restricted to adding to the pool – they can steal from it, too, and contribute ADM (administrative power) to hold the project back, rather than advance it. And contributions to the pool are anonymous. You can see what has been stolen, but a canny corrupt character will be careful only to steal from Edicts with many characters assigned to them.

What this means is that, in order to catch out your corrupt officials, you must set up Edicts to trap them and flush them out. Put your suspects in an Edict with a set of squeaky-clean characters, and see what they do – but perhaps they’ll catch on. Check out their Edict history – is it full of corruption? Is there anyone else it could be? You are building up partial information to try and infer who’s really guilty, in the spirit of a whodunnit, in order to avoid arresting the wrong man – your vassals will really not appreciate an undeserved evening with the Inquisition.

The other ‘leg’ of the intrigue system is the Secret system. Characters can engage in all manner of plots and sinister dealings, and have a number of secret attitudes to one another and to you. And, as you might expect, this creates the problem: who knows what? Our solution is to have every plot and secret attitude generate Secret tokens, which can be copied from character to character. (When you play the game itself, there will be no mention of ‘tokens’ – it’s just a board game metaphor to make it easier to visualise from our perspective as designers.) Each Secret has a list of characters it Incriminates and characters that Must Not Know that secret, such as the authorities, the targets of a plot, the cuckolded spouse of a lover, and so on. If one of the latter gains the Secret Token, there will be consequences for the former – the secret may be made public, revealing it to all other Must Not Know characters, firing all of their consequence triggers (eg. changing their public stance, making the Incriminated valid targets of Inquisitorial Purging, etc) and then deleting the Secret Tokens as there is no more use for them; or the MNK character may do something private, such as gain a Grudge secret attitude against the Incriminated. Secrets, when gained, can be used to blackmail their Incriminated; they can reveal their secret attitudes towards the MNKs, revealing whether they had a motive for their assassination, for example; or they can simply reveal that a character is not as trustworthy as you thought.

A single Plot may generate a whole pile of different Secrets. One might say that Character X and Character Y are conspiring together, without revealing their aim, whilst another might simply state that there is a plot to assassinate Character Z involving at least three conspirators. A third might name Character W as a conspirator, and link the other two Secrets together. Each of these Secrets is kept in your Intrigue window, and can be searched, filtered, and juxtaposed in order to work out what piece of information you need next – who to spy upon and who to squeeze for their Secrets. This in turn links back in to the rest of the game – can you afford to antagonise that character? Is there something they want? What will it cost you to find the answer – or is it worth the risk to leave the conspirators at large?

Finally, one of the most important considerations with a system like this is to make sure there aren’t too few or too many plots and secrets going on, so there are enough to keep things interesting without swamping you with conspiracies. That’s why one of the functions of the Aitvaras AI is to regulate the amount of plotting going on – behind the scenes, it will permit or forbid characters to engage in plots. The limits it places on them will be loose, however – you ought never to be in a situation where you can say something like ‘aha, there will be no more plots for a while, because I know about these five’.

Ave Imperator!

Oliver