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Space emperor (the player) and noble houses (AI)

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This topic is to gather various somewhat related ideas, so feel free to go offtopic :) I don't have a specific question, I just wanted to discuss something along the lines described below.


The player is the emperor (4X game), there are noble houses (3-8 of those, all AI controlled) and traditional aliens (AI controlled). I'm looking for a mechanic where the player wants to support noble houses (friendly AI) because he needs them (what for?) but not too much because if the noble houses become too powerfull they might want to overthrow the emperor (or do other nasty stuff). Also the player needs to keep in check alien powers (hostile AI), possibly using noble houses for this purpose (but not necessarily).

So, basically it's a single player game where you deal with various AIs (which range between friendly and hostile).


Especially I'm interested in:

- what's the source of political power of noble houses?

- do noble houses have an army? or only the empire has it?

- who controls the army/fleet? the player (emperor) or the AI (noble houses)? Or maybe a mix (like the player gives generic orders and the AI executes it, unless it does not feels like it and want to oppose the emeperor :D)

- what's the economic base of the houses (possibly charters to planets granted by the emperor?)

- I feel noble houses should somehow be a political elite of the empire (admirals? advisors?)

- why the player needs the noble houses?

- why the player does not want the noble houses to be too powerful?

- why the player wants the noble houses to be content?

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1 - I think it depends on how empire is organized. If there are noble houses, they're expected to have some authority over some territory imo. And mere nobility is enough source of power :)

2 - Again it depends, noble houses have army in Game of Thrones :D , I think it's a bit work but logical to implement a mechanic with benefits and consequences of keeping power in one hand or distributing it :)

3 - It should be emperor commanding, noble houses might fight for getting office in army and senate (if any) like Rome

4 - Vast estates and trade privileges might be a good idea.

5 - Like houses fight for offices in Rome Total War, they should fight for political power for their own agenda

6 - Player might need noble houses in order to be able to govern a vast empire from single throne ( or may not as Ottoman empire didn't :) )

7 - It actually depends on the way mechanic works. If emperor comes from a noble house, it's obvious that Emperor prefers own house to be powerful but if it's directly hereditary , an overpowerful house may try to seize power

8 - An internal conflict between houses might cripple Empire and force Emperor to take a side which might have other consequences


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The houses may have influence in various sections of the empire (ministries?), especially without 1-1 relationship. I mean single house can have different influence in say... research, military and espionage. If you support a house it gains the influence in existing and new sections.

Now, if player wants to make decision "not in line" with influential house (i.e. cut all research funds in favour of army) then the research ministry will object and it won't happen. It may serve as a little hand holding at start for the player to not do anything stupid :). But if he supports the house so it "likes" him they can agree to that decision.

That way if player wants to explore more extreme path of the empire he will have to gain support of some of the houses to be able to make the decisions.

And I agree supporting single house should be stupid idea as too powerful one would end emperor's career.

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Here's how I might approach it: The noble houses rule baronies of planets. The emperor is the political leader of the empire, but lacks direct authority: he requests fleets, taxes, etc. from the nobility and they provide it (or don't).

The barons are mostly in competition with each other: they view themselves as the true source of power in the empire. They covet each other's planets and nurse secret ambitions to raise a large enough fleet to seize control over the entire empire.

As the emperor, you have a certain amount of discretion in doling out power. Newly settled or conquered planets must be granted to the barons. Internal migration and trade rules shift economic power. If you build a new spacestation the baron controlling it is strengthened. If a baron acts against your wishes (or more importantly, against the wishes of his fellow barons) you can punish him, giving away planets.

Possibly you can play the whole game this way, making sure no baron gets strong enough to seize control while keeping them happy enough to not just kick you off the throne. But more likely you'll want to strengthen your tenuous source of power. As you have successes, you can increase the imperial authority. First you might make military requisitions mandatory. Then you form an imperial fleet directly in your control. Eventually you claim direct authority over the fleet. You claim a capital planet in your control, then a whole imperial barony. If you act too rashly the barons will dipose you, but by keeping them focused on each other and slowly gaining power you can eventually abolish them and take sole control.

From a gameplay perspective, this also provides a natural feature gating mechanism. At the start the barons are powerful so you have limited tools at your disposal. By taking a power (I get to appoint the high admirals) you unlock a new mechanic, hopefully having figured out the basic ones by now.

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A space empire lends itself very naturally to a feudal hierarchy: central government, star systems (almost isolated from each other), planets and asteroids in a star system, separate colonies or nations on the same planet.

As Polama suggests, federal bureaucracies are the natural "enemy" of feudal power, and they are supposed to be on the emperor's side; however, they might be defeated or intimidated or subverted. To avoid civil war, the feudal powers could be purposefully crushed by difficult tasks (e.g. defend your piece of the frontier from aliens) and competing for limited resources rather than directly conflicting with each other.

Also, the purpose of the emperor should be to remain in power and make the empire prosper, not necessarily to replace an explicit and healthy feudal organization with secret influences and plots to control bureaucratic organizations.

Depending on how the empire forms, the "nobles" might be:

  • recently appointed by the emperor, and possibly temporary (e.g. a military governor)
  • leaders (or more impersonal governments) of politically united planets or systems that join a federation and retain autonomy,
  • also, leaders of megacorps, crime syndicates, political parties etc.
  • various organizations that have (or once had) the resources to have a space fleet and "own" the particular planets they explored/conquered/colonized (maybe recently, maybe a long time ago)
  • inflated from small-scale origins (e.g. the brother-in-law of the first emperor became viceroy of an important planet, and centuries later his family is wealthier than many alien empires; two or three Earth nations, the only ones with space colonization programs, have expanded to fill tens of planets each while the others merely provide exotic foreign tourists)

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Maybe something like this:

Power of nobles comes from territory (estates). All nobles have estates on the imperial capital since they are the powerfull  people since the birth of the empire. Nobles own ground forces (fleets are under imperial control?) and since they have estates on the imperial capital planet they have armies there as well.

If a noble house is too unhappy they might start a revolt. In such case their armies on the imperial capital will attack the imperial palace. Imperial guards will stand to defend the emperor. Other nobles will have a choice: join the revolting noble house, join the emperor, do nothing. Also local population can form a militia to defend beloved emperor. Then armies are talled up and the outcome is decided. If the emperor loses he is disposed of, game over.

Each planet can have several estates, so technically nobles do not own planets. Nobles are supposed to defend the planet they are on (have estates) in case of alien invasion (using their ground forces), they also collect taxes from their estates. Part of that tax goes to the imperial treasury. Estates are granted by the emperor as new planets are colonized/conquered. The incentive to give out estates is that nobles are significantly more skilled at managing estates than imperial appointed officials and that the hatred of nobles increases rapidly if the imperial controlled estates exceed 20% of total available estates in the empire. Also, imperial controled estates generate "bureaucracy points" which can incur a penalty to efficiency of the empire as a whole.

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I'm sorry but it doesn't make much sense for me. Why the nobles should have an army on the imperial capital? To defend from whom? Even if they don't really like each other or the Emperor, in theory they play in the same team. Also Emperor having just small loyal guard while everyone else around has full army is asking for trouble.

Emperor will hold his position only as long as no one dares or succeeds going aganist him. Showing off imperial force and forbidding any other helps a lot on capital.

As for the last part (the planets) I agree 100%.

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18 hours ago, Deflinek said:

I'm sorry but it doesn't make much sense for me. Why the nobles should have an army on the imperial capital? To defend from whom? Even if they don't really like each other or the Emperor, in theory they play in the same team. Also Emperor having just small loyal guard while everyone else around has full army is asking for trouble.

Emperor will hold his position only as long as no one dares or succeeds going aganist him. Showing off imperial force and forbidding any other helps a lot on capital.

As for the last part (the planets) I agree 100%.

How about this:

When nobles are upset one might want to revolt, such noble nouse is called "Usurper". Other nobles can support the emperor, usurper, or stay neutral.

All planets are set into "confused" state (kind of neutral/undecided/not knowing what's going on), the imperial planet will be set as "supporting emperor" while nobles homeworlds will be set as supporting the party their noble house supports. Then, each turn any confused planet neighbouring decided planet must decide too (armies on the planet start fighting and the planet supports the local winner; the side get +20% to combat power per neighbouring planet on same side). Then, after at least 60% of planets decided the side which accumulated 70% of support (planets not being equal, some are far more important) wins. If at any time imperial capital is taken over the usurper wins. If all planets decided the side with more planets win (even if won marginally by one backwater planet support).

(note: it would be fun if the player got additional options to impact the usurp attempt, ideas?)



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Have you read Dune? (I think Dune and the "House" books in the series are possibly some of the best empire/political intrigue novels in Sci-Fi still.)

Crusader Kings might also be a good reference game to look into to get some ideas.


In my opinion some of the best games of this style have their game play and lore heavily intertwined. - What are foundations that society is built on? What technologies do they have, and what impacts does that have on society? If everyone and their dog has FTL as common as cars, then you're going to have a game and society that is different from one where only a handful of individuals control FTL along the lines of the Spacing Guild and Highliners. 


Start thinking about the problem from a storyline viewpoint: Who is doing what and why? - Does any of that translate into something that you find appealing as a player?

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Thoughts based on posts so far:

- noble houses' power should be based on estates (territory), possibly combined with trade privileges, licences, charters and the like

- noble houses should have at least private ground forces (army) if not own fleets

- noble houses are responsible for fighting, at least defending the planets with their estates, they are "the defenders of humanity from ugly aliens"

- the player (Emperor) is the political leader of the empire, not representing any house, nominally in command of military forces (possibly with a lot of nobles autonomy and/or hands off approach)

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