Leaders are an area of the game where the flavor and strategic decision making seem to be lacking. One idea that might help is to give leaders ethics. Imagine…
When leaders are created they draw an ethic that stays with them permanently. Leaders are drawn from your population, so the general support for each ethic drives the probability that your leaders have it. When a leader is hired, seeing that ethic in the government increases its attraction to the population, especially if it’s the head of government, and to a lesser extent a governor.
Imagine that you start a game as fanatic materialist authoritarians; your starting leaders are mostly materialist, maybe one or two get authoritarian. So far, so stable. A few years in and the ethics in your population are drifting, especially in the colonies. You’re about to go to war and you need to hire an admiral, but the one with the skills you need happens to be an egalitarian… do you hire them to stand a better chance in the war knowing that it will drift your population in a direction you don’t want? Suddenly hiring leaders is interesting and has consequences!
You’re playing a materialist democracy and the outsider candidate in the election is a spiritualist. Against the odds they win, and your population starts drifting, demanding a ban on robots. Or maybe your emperor’s child harbors egalitarian views; will it be the end of the monarchy? Suddenly elections and inheritance are interesting and have consequences too!
There would be great potential for additional new mechanics too; imagine…
As a militarist you conquer a pacifist neighbor civilization. Their pops join a pacifist faction. Today, probably one of your scientists or admirals would spontaneously start leading the pacifist faction of aliens, which just feels bizarre. What if there were such a thing as unhired leaders, like popular figures who sit around as outsider faction leaders? The pacifist alien pops spawn an unhired alien pacifist leader; you haven’t hired them, they don’t draw support for pacifism, but look out because they are a candidate in your elections.
Your neighbors are xenophobic and are rivaling you. They also have an election coming. Imagine if you could covertly support the xenophile candidate who, if they win, would help improve your relations and end the rivalry?
Paradox has a lot of experience with interesting characters from Crusader Kings, so it’s surprising that leaders in Stellaris are as bland as they are. They don’t need to be as deeply individual as your bastard son, the Earl of Glamorgan, but a little extra flavor in the form of giving them ethics would seem to really create opportunities for decision making and story telling.
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