Roughness: A Poorly-Named Suggestion for the Revamping Armies and Planetside Campaigns

stellaris 1 - Roughness: A Poorly-Named Suggestion for the Revamping Armies and Planetside Campaigns


As I was waiting for the upcoming Nemesis expansion, I went back into my drive and rediscovered a document I had half-drafted to try and flush out the land combat system. Originally, it was the basis for a mod I wanted to make, but after doing the needed research I discovered it wouldn’t be possible, so I decided to dust this back off and finish it out before the devs looked at revamping land combat. I’m not sure that should be the focus of the next major expansion, but it was something I’ve pondered for a while, so I might as well publish it for criticism. I wanted to create some visuals to aid in explaining this, but I do want to publish it before Nemesis drops, so apologies for that.

This is less of a well-defined system and more of my own brainstorming/wishlist for what a land combat revamp would look like. That doesn’t mean I want to shield it from criticism. On the contrary, I’m sure that it has a lot of problems, but hopefully some ideas from this suggestion could inspire the devs to make something great when they get around to this pretty uninteresting portion of the base game. Without further ado, here’s my suggestion:


Land combat remains one of the least interesting aspects of Stellaris. Right now, optimal strategy boils down to building one or two large groups of the best armies you can build, then rely on planetary bombardment to do the majority of damage, if you bother with occupying planets at all.

However, large land battles remain a staple of space operas, from the desperate defense of Reach, to the tense delaying action at Hoth, to the brutal slog at Vraks. Even harder science fiction often depicts massive and involved campaigns on the ground (political concerns preventing orbital forces from flattening everything), meaning there is plenty of potential for ground warfare to become an interesting aspect of Stellaris’s gameplay.

The suggestions I present in this post will have 4 goals:

  • Army diversity: Force the player to consider the planet they’re attacking when composing their army. It would make sense that defense armies would be tailored for their environment, but a commander would expect more success from deploying light mecha, gene warriors, and airborne infantry to a hostile eucomenopolis then, say, superheavy tanks and mobile artillery, who would be more suited for a savannah world.
  • Planetary campaigns, not battles: Planets are big. Even if the attacking force is overwhelming, a defender should be able to trade territory for time, if only for some time. If a planet is invaded, a defending power should have the time to rush reinforcements to the defenders, if they think it is possible.
  • Additional flavor: Unless you’re a hive mind, your generals, troops and civilians should have personality when fighting a war. I’m not talking about TNO-style events talking about the deep psychological damage suffered by a family of innocent Blorg as the war tears through their homes on Trappist-III, but of large events such as mutinies, heroic last stands, and the development of your generals could make the ground combat portion of stellaris more interesting even if you’re not watching it progress.
  • Simplicity: These changes need to be fairly easy to comprehend with only a few minutes of study and be fairly easy for the AI to use, meaning complex options like a division designer aren’t going to be a part of this suggestion. I also will try to prevent introducing too many additional mechanics, such as soft vs hard attack and the like.

Planet Changes

Initially, when considering how to make ground combat more interesting, my idea was to give armies a modifier based on what type of planet they are on. This could be done via either a planet modifier, or a value in the file for the armies themselves. However, after considering this system from the perspective of a programmer or modder, I realized it would be difficult to expand if more planet types were added, so it was discarded.

Instead, a planet will have a collection of values, to determine the combat environment that any invader/stationed armies will have to fight in:

  • Roughness: it’s not a good name for the term, but perhaps the most vital when considering combat. Measures how difficult the terrain is to navigate. Each planet type will have a basic value (for example, a jungle planet would have a higher value then a savannah planet), but this value is increased in districts with blockers, industrial districts, and city districts. Habitats always have 100% roughness, meaning your heavy armor simply won’t be useful there. Optionally, an urbanization category could be created to simulate urban sprawl, but I don’t feel this is particularly necessary.
  • Water Coverage: Fairly simple. A desert planet or habitat will have a value around %10-%20, while an ocean world will have a much higher number. Like all values, this one could be somewhat randomized based on the planet. Again, not particularly important unless you want to have combat be vastly different in wet climates than dry ones.
  • Infrastructure: Measures how quickly units can be transferred across the planet. Increased by districts. If the combat revamp mentioned later is not implemented, then this value is pretty unnecessary.

Additional categories could be added, although I can’t think of a solid reason to do so outside of niche uses in mods (For example, adding a value to show tiberium coverage in the Tiberium Wars mod).

Army changes

Each type of army will have its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on the terrain they are fighting in. As an example, I will go over armies existing in the game to show how they would act in the suggested system:

  • Defense Army, Robotic Defense Army, Drone Grid, Sentinels: Being defensive armies, these armies will have no penalties from defending in any terrain, and only minor penalties from a battlefield’s roughness when on the attack.
  • Assault Army: Rename them to Infantry Army. Infantry on the attack will have a minor penalty when fighting in rough terrain, but will see a bonus when defending in it.
  • Clone Army, Robotic Assault Army, Undead Army, Hunter-killer Army, Slave Army: Similar bonuses to the infantry army, with differences in statistics similar to what we see in the current iteration of the game.
  • Psionic Army, Gene Warrior Army: Specialized armies like this almost ignore bonuses and penalties from terrain, justifying their cost.
  • Xenomorph Army: These terrifying creatures thrive in dense jungles and sprawling cities, so they have fairly poor stats as a base, but get serious bonuses from a battlefield’s roughness.
  • Cybrex Warform: A better version of mecha, which will be explained in the additional armies section.

Since all of this is determined in a fairly quick calculation, the player will see a simple icon when they are deciding to land a force on a planet: A simple green checkmark or X to show if the army (the average of its bonuses and penalties) is well-suited for the average of combat environments on the planet you’re about to order them onto.

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You’ll notice that there is a fairly major flaw with this idea: That there will always be one ideal type of army for each planet. A way to mitigate this will be mentioned in the combat revamp section, but a fairly quick fix is the addition of a combined arms bonus in combat. If a battle has several different types of units on one side, they will gain minor bonuses to their damage and morale.

Combat Revamp

Four immediate changes, to start with:

  1. Planets no longer fall or are occupied in one engagement.
  2. Armies of both sides that aren’t in combat do regenerate their health .
  3. You can still gain resources from a planet where combat is taking place, provided it isn’t blocaded by the enemy’s fleet.
  4. Planetary bombardment can continue while combat is taking place, doing damage to infrastructure, feets, and both armies (the enemy’s taking more damage, but some friendly fire will happen, especially if you’re not in the ‘precise’ bombardment stance)

The progress of a campaign will be decided on a ‘map’ given to each planet, but in order to keep things simple for the player, AI, and most importantly performance, these ‘maps’ are defined as such:

  • Instead of creating a mini Hearts of Iron 4 map for each planet and storing it in the save file (yikes), planets will generate a map once they are invaded. This ‘map’ is not retained once combat on the planet is concluded. If it is invaded by another empire or a liberating force, a new map is generated.
  • This map is one-dimensional. It consists of a line that represents the attacker’s landing zones on one end, and the defender’s capital/headquarters/local mainframe/local hive node on the other. That line consists of a number tiles based on the number of districts that can be constructed on the planet, with each tile corresponding to a district/blocker/empty wilderness on the planet. This is why the map isn’t saved after combat finishes: presumably, a second invader will choose a different landing zone, and thus the route towards the enemy’s capital would be different.
  • This map is visible in the armies tab during combat, with districts under the attacker’s control and districts under the defender’s control highlighted in their respective colors.
  • Each district will hold armies, instead of just separating them between ‘active’ and ‘reserve’.

A planetary campaign itself proceeds as follows:

  1. When the attacker invades and the map is generated, the defender’s armies are evenly spread throughout the map. This is to simulate the defender having to cover the entire planet against an invasion, where the attacker can concentrate their forces in their attack. If the defender has fewer armies then they have districts, then priority is given to the capitol and districts with the highest roughness, AKA the easiest to defend.
  2. A number of the attacker’s armies will be placed in the landing zone. The Landing zone will always be an area of low roughness. If there are defending forces in the area the first battle will begin:
  3. Battles proceed with a similar system to what we see for planetary battles now, although both sides will receive bonuses and penalties based on the terrain. The attacker will probably have overwhelming numbers (unless the defender has poured an insane amount of resources into this planet), but as they don’t own any other territories, they won’t be able to send any of their damaged armies into reserve. Some types of armies will gain a bonus during this important phase of the campaign.
  4. If the defender wins this battle, then the planetary campaign is over! If the attacker wins, they secure their landing zone, and the campaign proper begins.
  5. Two processes then begin to happen at once:
    1. Reinforcement:
      1. Depending on the skill of the Generals and the infrastructure of the planet, both forces will move armies around this map, either towards active combat or away from it, if the armies are critically damaged.
    2. Combat:
      1. The attacker or defender will send armies into the enemy’s closest district, beginning a battle.
      2. This battle proceeds like planetary combat does in the current iteration of stellaris, except it is influenced by roughness, combined arms, and other bonuses. Additionally, armies are moved into reserve (other territories) more often than in the current iteration, allowing for armies to last longer over the course of the campaign.
      3. Depending on the result of the battle, the required district will change hands.
      4. Repeat until the attacker controls the capitol or the defender controls the landing zone, ending the campaign!

The intention is for this system to simulate several types of battles, from an unstoppable blitzkrieg tearing across the planet’s surface to a horrible stagnation that devolves into brutal trench assaults, mass planetary bombardments, and artillery duels. By replacing your general with one of better skill/traits, adding better armies to the combat, or performing espionage to wreck the status quo, you should be able to overcome stalemates like this.

Additional Armies

For greater depth and flavor in the system, additional armies will be added. These are being added with the intention of adding no new technologies to the research pool. These can also be renamed for a hive mind, to retain their flavor:

  • Airborne armies: Call them marines, orbital shock troopers, or whatever. These are similar to infantry armies, but more expensive and have a bonus when fighting during the crucial landing battle. Unlocked and improved in the existing doctrine techs.
  • Power Armored Armies: Your space marines/zone troopers/mobile infantry. A lot more expensive and stronger than infantry, but they do gain slightly more penalties from a terrain’s roughness. A much better option for urban combat then the next types of armies, however. Unlocked and improved by making advancements in robotics technology.
  • Tank armies: Very powerful armies that take severe penalties from a terrain’s roughness. Perfect for storming large desert planets, not so great when dealing with ocean planets or habitats. They have three main variants: Light tank armies, Medium tank armies, and Superheavy tank armies, the lighter ones having worse stats but taking less resources to maintain and fewer penalties from a terrain’s roughness. As all armies take fewer penalties on the defense, they are also excellent at holding a line. They are improved by making advances in your starship armor technologies.
  • Walker Armies: These are like tanks, but don’t have quite as impressive statistics as their treaded brethren do. However, they are still cool as hell, and ignore a certain amount of roughness in terrain when fighting in it. Separated into Light Walkers, Medium Walkers, and Giant Walkers, as well as Cybrex Warforms. Like tanks, lighter armies have a lower upkeep cost and fewer penalties They are improved by making advances in shield technology.
  • Hover Armies: Light units that almost ignore the penalties from sea coverage and terrain roughness. They’ll wither on an open battlefield with walkers or tank armies, but do great work in rough regions. They are improved by making advances in propulsion technology.
  • Kinetic Artillery Armies: Fragile armies that do a lot of damage, and take huge penalties from roughness in the attack. However, they can contribute to a battle from an adjacent district, doing some damage on their own and contributing to the combined arms bonus. Additionally, those uninvolved in combat can even attack starships in orbit with their kinetic weapons! The damage they do is almost negligible, but might be able to force someone to invade before they’d bombarded as much as they’d like or withdraw from orbit while combat is ongoing, denying orbital supremacy to the attackers. They are improved by making advances in kinetic weapons technologies.
  • Rocket Artillery Armies: Fragile armies that do a lot of damage, and take huge penalties from roughness in the attack. However, they can contribute to a battle from an adjacent district, doing some damage on their own and contributing to the combined arms bonus. Additionally, those uninvolved in combat can even attack starships in orbit with missile weapons! The damage they do is almost negligible, but might be able to force someone to invade before they’d bombarded as much as they’d like or withdraw from orbit while combat is ongoing, denying orbital supremacy to the attackers.They are improved by making advances in missile weapons technologies.
  • Air Defense Armies: Laser artillery that cannot attack through the atmosphere to enemies in space, unfortunately, but do intercept attacks from space, reducing the damage of orbital bombardment. They can’t contribute much to land battles themselves, except for in the initial landing battle, where they can do massive damage. They are improved by making advances in your laser technologies.
  • Submarines, Small Watercraft, etc: This isn’t one I really have put much thought into, but combat on ocean planets or others with large amounts of water could use them to make them more unique.
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Similar to how the AI builds fleets based on their personality, they can use a similar logic when building their army compositions.

Additional Leader Traits

In order to give your generals more personality, additional traits could be added to make ground combat more interesting.

Armor Background: (Bonus damage from AFV-type armies)
Infantry Background: (Bonus damage from Infantry-type armies)
Spacer Background: Whether by work through in your orbital forces or a transfer from your navy, this general has a good understanding of the dangerous process of planetfall. (Bonus damage during the landing battle, bonus damage from supporting orbital forces)
Rough Childhood: Whether they’re from the wild wilderness of one of your frontier worlds or the dark streets of your cities, this general (armies take less of a penalty from roughness)
Eye for Logistics: According to this officer, every campaign in history has been won or lost based on their army’s ability to resupply themselves. Thus, they focus their efforts on the less noticed parts of warfare. (Armies move faster on the map and regenerate health faster)
Artillery Officer: (More damage from artillery-type armies, worse attack from other units)
Fortifier: (Add a base roughness to every battle where this general is defending)

Not many here, for obvious reasons
Bombardment Expert: This admiral had spent a large amount of time studying the art of land combat, and has thus become an expert at arranging their fleet to support ground forces. (A slight bonus to bombardment damage against enemy armies)

Ground Combat Events

In order to make ground combat more interesting as well, a lot of art and events could be added to make the combat you see in-game feel more real. A war hero from one of your divisions could distinguish themselves, giving you the choice to pull them off the lines for a PR tour (more unity) or keeping them there for a morale boost on the planet. Armies with low morale could mutiny, creating an issue that your General could crush or try to negotiate through, depending on their traits.

Additionally, the upcoming espionage system could do wonders for this field of combat, maybe preparing a rebellion while you invade or sabotaging a key element of the enemy’s capabilities.

Other ideas that are somewhat outside the scope of this post, but would be cool

-Asymmetric warfare/insurgencies, either started by poor planetary management, an occupation by an invading army, a Prothean Scourge infection, or by special forces another empire has inserted into the planet via an espionage event.


I’ll admit that this isn’t the most complete suggestion (lack of visual aids are a problem, and I didn’t provide any solid numbers), but hopefully it demonstrates the potential a revamp of the ground combat system could do for stellaris. It also shouldn’t be that complicated for the player to keep track of: They should be able to assume a planet’s roughness, infrastructure, and water coverage at a glance, and the AI should be able to use this system without much of a performance cost. It also allows you to walk away from a battle for a while, working on other elements of your interstellar empire as the campaign progresses.

So, what do you all think? Is it a decent starting point for a system, are you hoping for something more in-depth, or should ground combat be a non-factor for stellaris in the first place? Please let me know, and I hope this was an interesting enough read for you.

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