Stellaris

Midgame Crisis Idea: THE MASTERMIND

stellaris 5 - Midgame Crisis Idea: THE MASTERMIND
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Imagine, if you will, a crisis that you can't defeat with fleetpower alone. One that hits just as you're starting to steamroll the AI, crippling your economy and turning your own overwhelming strength against you. One that pushes your management skills to your limits, forcing you to juggle your economy and make hard management calls just to keep your economy afloat while you desperately struggle to unravel the strings and track down the puppetmaster once and for all.

You may rule your empire in the light, but you're playing a chess game against a shadow ruler who knows your empire's every weakness, and wants nothing more than to see your downfall.

And they'll make the first move.

The exact sequence of events will depend heavily on your empire's ethics and authority, because different governments have different weaknesses and ways to bring them down. The Mastermind represents an ethic opposite to one of your government's, and will stop at nothing to enforce their ideology over yours, burning it all to the ground if necessary. (This crisis won't work for Gestalt Consciousnesses, for obvious reasons.)

DESIGN GOALS

The Mastermind crisis is supposed to:

  • Give the player a mostly non-combat crisis that requires careful civilian management and systems mastery to survive, rather than just throwing MOAR SPACESHIPS at it.

  • Force the player to make difficult decisions to keep their economy running, without any universally-good or easily-minmaxable options. You have to balance keeping your economy NUMBERS up and pressing forward with your pre-crisis agenda (but risking further Mastermind attacks), or focusing everything on stopping the Mastermind and risking the AI empires around you catching up with your stagnant economy.

  • Shake up the midgame, which is well-known for being the slowest point of most Stellaris games.

OPENING EVENTS

The crisis itself fires either when you hit midgame, or when every non-FE empire is at least 'Inferior' to you. I.E. when most players (AFAIK) start to steamroll the AI, and the interesting exploration and struggle of the early game gives way to a micromanagement monotony.

You'll see a few events here and there before the crisis begins proper, to hint that you aren't as in control as your empire as you think you are. Weapons stockpiles disappearing. Your internal security bureau overhearing strange conversations between important figures of your government. Signs of internal division, depending on your ethics: * (Materialist) Feuds between different schools of thought throw a wrench into the gears of scientific advancement, eroding the public's trust in the scientific apparatus. * (Authoritarian) Someone inside your government is funneling money and intel to dissident groups, spreading propaganda pointing out the hypocrisies and unearned power of your ruling class. * (Xenophile) Space /pol/ is spreading propaganda accusing xeno citizens of being biologically-inferior and disloyal to the government; it's all garbage, of course, but it's just convincing enough to the uneducated to stir up chaos. * (Egalitarian) Space QAnon attacks the legitimacy of a recent election, and alleges that the military must take control of the country and enact an authoritarian regime to 'preserve the integrity of our democracy' or something along those lines. …And I think you get the idea.

THE FIRST MOVE

The Mastermind throws down the gauntlet, as terrorist leaders are wont to do, with a major terrorist attack on your capital planet and center of government (which may kill your current leader). Not being a total moron, they know that indiscriminate violence will just turn the public against them and lead them to rally around the current regime, so they focus their attacks on you and your fervent supporters.

From this point on, the Mastermind Crisis has officially begun. It will continue until you finally track down and kill the Mastermind. All your planets will be hit with a stability/happiness debuff and reduced Governing Ethics Attraction for the duration of the crisis, as well as more specific events mentioned below.

You can contact the Mastermind at any point using the Contacts menu. They will taunt you, question your ideology, etc. You can also choose to capitulate to them; this switches your empire to their preferred ethics and makes them your new leader, but ends the crisis.

THE ENEMY'S MOVES

Every so often during the Mastermind Crisis, the Mastermind will make a major play against your government. Some of these are generic, while some of them require specific ethics/authorities.

  • TERRORIST ATTACK: Mastermind sympathizers will attack Pops and/or infrastructure that supports your regime (capital buildings, police buildings, Strongholds, Autocthon Monuments/Temples, etc.). Planets hit by terrorist attacks will suffer an extra happiness/governing ethics debuff, as the population is reeling, afraid, and questioning your government's ability to protect them.

  • CYBERATTACK: A more sophisticated form of terrorism. The Mastermind's hackers take control of your infrastructure, imposing assorted debuffs on your economy and spreading their propaganda further.

  • SPONSOR REVOLT: The Mastermind finances and supports the revolt of a specific group (opposing ethics, non-citizen species, etc.)

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  • LEAK TECH: The Mastermind leaks your technology to rivals/other empires of their favored ethics.

  • STIR UP FOREIGN POWERS: The Mastermind inspires foreign empires of their favored ethos to oppose you and like each other (through opinion maluses/bonuses).

  • LEADER IS ASSASSINATED: Exactly what it says on the tin.

  • LEADER DEFECTS: Basically the above, but worse. Your leader disappears in the middle of the night, is captured by your internal security forces on suspicion that they're a Mastermind agent, or commits suicide as your security is closing in. Either way, you discover they'd cooked your books and made off with a healthy supply of energy credits/scientific data.

  • MAJOR REVOLT: If the Mastermind Crisis has gone on long enough without you stopping them, if they've pulled off several of the above attacks, or if there's major internal ethics/species division in your empire, the Mastermind may go for broke and try to topple your empire. They'll launch massive insurrections among disloyal populations and spawn a rebel fleet using your own ship types and technology (if this is feasible programming-wise).

…And so on.

Each of these attacks, though, gives your security forces a valuable Lead you can use to track down the Mastermind. More on Leads in a later section.

YOUR COUNTERPLAY

Being hit by debuffs without being able to do anything about it isn't particularly fun gameplay. Ergo, you've got means to weaken the Mastermind's attacks and keep your economy humming until you can deal with them once and for all.

  • VANILLA GAME MECHANICS: You've already got ways to deal with stability/amenities/happiness problems. Planetary decisions like Martial Law, raising living standards, etc.

  • FUND INTERNAL SECURITY FORCES: Universal edict. Pour more cash into your security forces and give them more power. Reduces success chance of Mastermind attacks and pleases Authoritarians, but displeases Egalitarians and has a chance of replacing a random civic with Police State.

  • PROPAGANDA BARRAGE: Universal edict. Expensive and ticks off opposition parties, but increases governing ethics attraction to compensate for the Mastermind's governing ethics debuff shenanigans.

  • NETWORK HARDENING: Universal edict. Expensive, but reduces success chance of Mastermind cyberattacks.

  • COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Edict available to Egalitarians/Xenophiles/Pacifists. Reduces chance of terrorist attacks/disfavored group uprisings.

  • PUBLIC EDUCATION: Edict available to Egalitarians/Materialists. Researchers have reduced science output, in exchange for providing stability/happiness.

  • PREACH THE FAITH: Edict available to Spiritualists. Priests have reduced Unity output, in exchange for stability and governing ethics attraction.

  • LEADERSHIP PURGE: Edict available to Authoritarians/Militarists/Spiritualists. Kills some of your leaders who your internal security forces suspect might be Mastermind agents. You risk losing valuable leaders, but you're a lot less likely to have them defect on you.

  • COMMUNITY CRACKDOWN: Edict available to Authoritarians/Xenophobes/Militarists. Reduces the chances of local revolts, but causes an admin cap penalty and makes disfavored groups hate your government even more.

RESOLVING THE CRISIS

You resolve the Mastermind Crisis by tracking the Mastermind to their lair and eliminating them once and for all. You do this by accumulating Leads.

You get a Lead every time the Mastermind makes an attack, and an extra if the attack was foiled. You can get more Leads with expensive, repeatable Special Projects.

Accumulate 10 leads (or some other number that gives you a decent crisis length without dragging it on too long), and you can track down the Mastermind's hidden fortress. It appears in an outer system, with a fleet strength roughly comparable to a Great Khan fleet. NOW you can mobilize your navy and punch the smug jerk in the face.

Once your troops defeat the Mastermind, they are hauled before you in chains. They'll try their best to convince you that they did what they had to to save your civilization from its impending fate, etc. You can refute/reject their points in an extended conversation… or you can just shoot them in the face and be done with this whole mess.

What do you get for defeating the Mastermind (besides returning your empire to normal, of course)? A major Unity and Influence buff, plus a Relic computer the Mastermind was using to plot their destabilizing plans. You can keep it for its influence/governing ethics buff so as to firmly cement your regime, or destroy it (if Egalitarian) for a bigger Unity and Influence buff as you reaffirm confidence in the legitimacy of your democratic government.

One way or another, it's finally over.

AFTERWORD

So, does the idea of fighting this crisis sound cool?

If I were a modder, I'd give it a try, but I have no Stellaris modding experience and I know I'm bad at finishing major long-term projects. So I'll just put the idea up for discussion if nothing else.

Source: Original link


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