Regarding Solo Campaigns

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PaulB
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Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby PaulB » Thu Sep 10, 2015 6:50 pm

Posted this in Tyrel's Fed Campaign thread but perhaps it's better off here:
Some portions reference that same campaign: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1728


I wonder is there a system within VBAM specifically designed for Solo play? I get the impression that most solo campaigns are sort of born with the requirement that the player indulges in a bit of schizophrenia and by the end is perhaps gaming multiple empires and not simply the one he/she began with.

It would be cool, albeit difficult I think, to have a system where new empires are not so much determined in full and gamed thereafter but revealed in pieces and developed as time goes on. Such a system might require a ton of charts however, which are in turn modified by those existing attributes.

The enjoyment from Solo play seems to be in large part the exploration aspect and I would venture that exploring a race is likewise part of the enjoyment but in the current system the player seems to have full understanding of a race, down to its fleet composition, at first contact.

Some ideas might be:
At first contact, the important question is How does the enemy react to you? Maybe this is influenced by the location of the encounter.

Then from their reaction, you can develop other traits. Maybe those traits are developed as the player has contact with them. They get a check to knowledge of that race for example. If they're hostile, why? Aggressive? Xenophobic? The hostility would modify the roll and make some things more likely but not impossible.

Overtime you can learn how big they are, how advanced they are. Maybe for the fleets there are a few basic types which can be modified by certain rolls which in turn change the costs. Maybe they favour small tough ships, so they get the small ships list but those are modified with a DV + Cost increase.

But overall, the specific ideas of the race are determined when the player needs to know them. If the enemy declares war on the player, how big is the fleet in relation to their own? How big is their empire and how does the size of that empire affect how long ships take to reach the front? Fleets can remain an amorphous number until needed and industrial capacity can likewise be overall. Are their defences centralized or decentralized? Industrial? If you need to roll for 10 turns of spending, and that spending is all on defence which translates to say 70/30 OSATs and ground troops where are they located? Mabye centralized they fortified the homeworld and left the outer systems relatively undefended sort of thing.

Such a system would probably need a book unto itself and that book would need to be well indexed, organized and so forth to be as usable as possible but I think it would benefit solo campaigns in two ways, one it would bring the exploration aspect to the enemy races and two it would minimize those race book keeping until such time that it was necessary to know.

In your current campaign, maybe the Romulans run into the Volus and a firefight ensues. Maybe the Volus employed better ships as well. Now the romulans are wondering, oh boy are these guys going to invade? How big is their empire? How many ships do they have? So now maybe the player has options for how to proceed, maybe he starts scouting around that contact system to try and find other systems, they get a % chance to find other systems and scouting helps to determine how big the empire is. Maybe the player can also try to initiate diplomatic relations which in turn can reveal other traits or maybe prompt other actions which in turn develop traits. Or maybe the player just turtles up and as the turns pass there's a check to see whether the Volus have responded with a probing or invasion force of their own.

It still would require a bit of book keeping, specifically a history of the different events which would in turn influence the rolls but I think it would be more enjoyable and less of a hurdle than an all out examination of the enemy.

One problem might be to keep the enemy engaging once the exploration of who they are has been exhausted, that would probably require something similar to what With a Purpose is reportedly going to offer. Like an enemy encounter system where the aliens have aims but those aims are not known until later. Some sort of branching system.

All in all don't know how difficult, feasible or popular such a system would be, but I think it would be appealing for solo players.

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby wminsing » Fri Sep 18, 2015 3:22 pm

As I mentioned in the other thread, really excellent idea. All of my solo games in 1st edition tended to sputter out after first contact since running two empires both actively seeking to expand gets time consuming.

So I think you'd want to divide how much the player knows about the NPC empire into several levels, and have certain thresholds required to move from one level to another. So at the most basic level you simply know they exist, maybe the location of one of their colonies and one unit design. As you performed certain actions (like scouting nearby, as you say) you eventually reach the next level of knowledge and reveal more of their capabilities and unit designs, etc.

In terms of NPC actions, it should be possible (though perhaps difficult) to provide some 'decision flow charts' for the NPC empire, maybe have two or three different 'personality types' that have different decision trees to allow for empires to act differently (and guides to create new ones). The solo player is probably going to have to decide on the details of how to implement the choices, but this way the NPC 'emperor' is making choices rather than the player.

More thoughts as they come to me.

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Tyrel Lohr
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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sun Sep 20, 2015 8:13 pm

The idea of "quasi-empires" that exist but are not fully realized powers is interesting. It would certainly address the bookkeeping problem that exists when a new NPE is activated during the game. The tricky part is coming up with the system that abstractly handles what their empire has available, which systems they control, etc. -- especially when it comes to making sure that you don't accidentally eat up too much real estate to add them in later on.

In such a case, I think you'd have to end up assigning each "quasi-empire" an amount of off map income that it earns a certain percentage of to apply towards its border with the player. Tying this into the colony point mechanic in the 2e CG, perhaps the QE has 18 CP of colonies off map, with each point generating 2 EP of income (beyond other costs). The QE then gets its full income from its on map colonies, and pays full maintenance on its units that operate on this border.

In the event of a war, the player could decide to "activate" additional QE systems to bring them into play, but otherwise have its strength level be decided by random rolls to see if any events add or remove off map colonies, units, etc. In that way the QE would not fully enter play until all of its systems were found or until such point as they were drawn into the larger galactic community that the player empires are part of.

As for flow charts for actions, the best option there is to recreate the leader personalities from the original Master of Orion. That would make it easy to create a series of decision trees that would prioritize different action sets, or combine it with a basic mission/objective system where you would roll up a group of objectives based on their personality. For example, a Military Expansionist would be inclined to start wars or build up their military forces (Military) or pursue aggressive exploration and colonization programs (Expansionist). The AIX stats fulfill a similar role in determining diplomatic postures, but the leader personalities would do a better job pushing goals for the player to advance for the NPE.
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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby PaulB » Mon Sep 21, 2015 5:12 pm

Well, assigning a the QE a certain amount of colony points sort of does away with exploration I think however. One aspect of the exploration I suggest is that the player doesn't know how big the enemy empire is until they have done something to reveal it to them so defining the overall capabilities of the overall QE is counter to the idea. Unless of course the player does something to reveal this information to them.

So rather than say the empire has X CP and this translates into X EP. One could instead determine how many forces are in the bordering worlds? And as information is later discovered, rolls determine what percentage of their total fleet those forces represent. Maybe the maximum it represents is also confined to a percentage as well, to allow for other empires to border the first QE.

But for example maybe the border world has a large number of forces present, and the player fears this is representative of their entire empire but later on, rolls determine that because the QE is say xenophobic they have amassed much of their fleet as a defensive measure.

Basically the core premise is to approach the QE from the bottom-up rather than top-down to create fog of war for the player. The QE is realized in full by expanding upon a limited series of encounters combined with what traits the race turns out to posses.

At the same time there certain safeguards to help ensure a balanced again. If the enemy for example has a large fleet in the border world (compartively) then it's more likely that its a larger part of their fleet. But there is still the chance that that fleet represents a small part of the fleet and therefore a big empire.

Simple things like if the race is militaristic and expansionist, then they will devote roughly X amount of their industry to ship building meaning that a fleet of X size was built by an economy of Y size which is broken into different planets.

As for the map think one benefit of the nodal system is that it can really cater for this sort of exploration. Because the map is not based on geography but on connections, it can be added more easily. Also if there are complications when fully generating the empire, there is the allowance for "fudge" factor such as new QE systems losing jump lanes or known systems gaining previously unknown lanes to allow for the QE rolls.

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Mon Sep 21, 2015 9:32 pm

The biggest problem I can see with that approach (bottom up vs. top down) is that you then have no mechanism for drawing in extra forces if something does happen to the QE. I suppose one way around that would be to roll every X turns for a QE "Event" that would either increase the size of their empire or give them extra economic points to spend on extra units that would be moving into the area.

I still think you'd about have to have a rough colony point allotment, however, to cover situations like with Espionage Intel missions, but that could be kept more fluid so that it is a rough guess rather than a firm number, and then have events increase or decrease that total until it hits zero or less, at which point the QE is fully formed. For example, a QE might have 12 CP when it is generated, giving it 12 off-map income and the potential for 12 points of colonies out there somewhere. At the end of the year a roll is made, and the player rolls -2 colony points. They're now down to 10. In the meantime, the player finds a Colony system that belongs to them (6 CP) and an espionage mission uncovers an Outpost (1 CP). That leaves them with 3 CP left unknown. The total could still increase, or it could decrease and leave them with nothing else.

Each "discovered" system would then have 5 x System Income points to spend on starting forces. So if that Colony that you find has an output of 20, then the QE gets 100 EP to spend on units and infrastructure in that system.

Does that sound more like what you had in mind?
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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby PaulB » Mon Sep 21, 2015 10:22 pm

Well I'd need to have a more in depth examination of the rules and probably also say menagerie 1e to really think up some ideas, but in general I would say that another principle might be to

Create or realize the details of the QE only when the actions of the player or the QE necessitate.

So the CP idea you mention for example might be a mid-term approach, wherein the player has some interaction with the QE where they have gained a rough idea of the breadth of the enemy empire but not its exact composition. Before that they may have a more nebulous idea, after a few more excursions or intelligence operations maybe a more specific idea.

As for conflict, I don't think that articulating the enemy's economy is necessary. Rather what one can do is to simply roll for reinforcements to the front lines. And then their ability to get reinforcements may become more difficult until at some point a roll says they've nothing else to give. And maybe once the extent of the fleet is realized, the economy (and CP) can be roughly formulated (but not the exact planets).

A militaristic empire might be for example more likely to get reinforcements for a longer length of time, another type of opponent might skew another way. I think there are a variety of ways to favour different results in die rolls which allow for that sort of variation.

The main problems I think are two fold:
1. Keeping the system fairly simple in the sense that maybe the player needs to refer to different charts at different times, but the book keeping is much less.
2. Creating a set of rules which expand the limited data into desirable NPEs rather than something completely broken one way or the other.

Part of the ways it might succeed are to limit what numbers the player need keep track of at any one time, and one tool to this effect might be to replace some information with other sorts of information as they know more about the empire.

Ultimately however I think a fully realized empire might benefit from a bit of abstraction, particularly when it comes to funding and disposition of forces unless the player has concrete information through different means. When required the distribution of funds may be done so by for example checking the racial traits against the economy against the number of turns. Though admittedly at this stage and with a sufficient level of information it might be easier to just do their builds.

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby PaulB » Tue Sep 22, 2015 5:13 pm

I found this MoO1 resource:
http://sirian.warpcore.org/moo1/ai.html

Some of the racial traits might be a bit redundant for MoO1, but good starting point. I'm not sure where the rules are for NPEs in 1e? (Or maybe they're in 2e as well). I had a look at Menagerie last night but see it's focused solely on creating custom races. Will check out my moderator's companion to see what's in there.

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Sep 23, 2015 1:15 am

I have a previous version of the Companion NPE diplomacy rules that actually use the MOO1 system. Talking with Jay, that might be the best course of action for us. I'm going to run some tests between the current version of AIX and what I had built around the MOO1 style personality/strategy mix. AIX gives you a wider range of options, but the MOO1 style system gives you a more focused set of options that are easier to remember the effects of -- which helps immensely when you're playing the game. It's kind of like XCOM where the original had time units (more granular) but the Firaxis version went to the 2 actions per turn model for ease of play.

That VBAM/MOO hybrid NPE model ended up having a flat set of declaration, breaking, and treaty chances that were based on relationship, but then had a personality modifier. For example, Xenophobic halved treaty chances, while Aggressive doubled the chance of declaring war. Those kinds of simple modifiers that gave an empire character but were easy to apply.
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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby wminsing » Wed Sep 23, 2015 1:25 pm

So the CP idea you mention for example might be a mid-term approach, wherein the player has some interaction with the QE where they have gained a rough idea of the breadth of the enemy empire but not its exact composition. Before that they may have a more nebulous idea, after a few more excursions or intelligence operations maybe a more specific idea.


That's what I was getting at with the information levels approach; basic level might be you have some rough guess as their empire size (between 50 and 100 CP), later exploration and intel operations will help narrow that range down. But you won't know exactly how large the empire is for some time.

As for conflict, I don't think that articulating the enemy's economy is necessary. Rather what one can do is to simply roll for reinforcements to the front lines. And then their ability to get reinforcements may become more difficult until at some point a roll says they've nothing else to give. And maybe once the extent of the fleet is realized, the economy (and CP) can be roughly formulated (but not the exact planets).


Yes, I'd agree with this approach. It's similar to the 'let the charts seed the story' approach you see in a lot of OSR RPGs; roll up the data, and find the connections there, rather than start with the connections and create the data. That is, you don't need to know how big Empire X's economy is, you just need to know how many new ships they are sending into the theater. WHY they only send so many ships has lots of possible answers the player doesn't need to know (at this time); economic exhaustion, war with a yet undiscovered NPE, maybe Emperor X is just very parsimonious. The solo player only gets that information when it's time to figure out what the next logical action for Empire X to take is (like if they are badly loosing the current war and the player needs to know if Empire X would sue for peace).

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby PaulB » Wed Sep 23, 2015 6:10 pm

Yeah I had a chance to check out my moderator's companion yesterday but still need to look at my PDF of 2E again to see how diplomacy has changed if at all since I see the AIX system is probably meant to integrate with the existing treaty system so some of the thoughts I have in mind might be rather inelegant but will need to check.

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Re: Regarding Solo Campaigns

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Sep 25, 2015 12:36 am

2e is still in flux enough when it comes to some elements that I'm not opposed to adopting a new approach to the way the NPE diplomacy rules work. AIX gave a wider range of variables, but they were almost too granular. I'm cutting relationship down to a 0-10 scale anyway, with fewer diplomatic shifts but when they happen it's more important. That way you don't have to keep updating 1-6 points of relation here or there and concentrate more on "something significant happened this turn!" events.

The question then becomes if the MOO style personalities can work well enough and be easy enough to use to compensate for the loss of the more granular AIX system? I can see strengths either way, and a hybrid of the two that retains AIX for diplomacy but the MOO personalities for strategy/objectives would also be a possibility.

I'll try to work on the quasi-empire concept some more on my end, too, and see what I can come up with. The term "emerging empire" that I've been using in the 2e Companion up to this point might be better applied to these kinds of powers, as they would very much be "emerging" from the fog of war system by system until fully realized.
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