Stellaris

The Shroud could use a mechanic rework and some additional/alternative content

stellaris 1 - The Shroud could use a mechanic rework and some additional/alternative content
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I feel the Shroud is really meh in its current state, mostly because of the random nature of it all. The chances of getting something useful out of a Shroud trip are way too low for something that is available only twice every decade, and the potential drawbacks are crippling. The boons aren't really well-balanced among themselves, either.

Yeah, some sub-light travel speed or increased weapon damage in times of peace is nice and all, but the increased lifespan boon is completely OP and can carry your well-rounded selection of scientists and governors easily from early mid-game to the repeatable tech era, if you happen to have them built up properly at that time. But you can't really know if it pays off to invest massive resources into this, of course, because might just as well happen that they die off one by one while you spend your empire's remaining energy credits to keep rolling crap boons, curses and entity pacts over and over.

It's a shame, because I love the flavor of psionics and the Shroud in this game, but from a balance perspective, such huge effects on a complete RNG mechanic feel like an absolute trainwreck to me. The choices are either to save scum and autoharvest ridiculously overpowered stuff or to have your entire 20+-hour-playthrough ruined by one unlucky roll at the wrong time.

So, why not remedy this situation by offering the player several paths that they can choose from upon achieving Transcendence (and possibly with further branches and intersections later down the line)? The different choices could vary in power and required investment, with the more powerful ones only available to certain impossible-to-change-midgame civics, species origins, rare technologies and ethics combinations. Lore-wise, the paths should reflect a spectrum of different attitudes towards the spiritual. In the following I have outlined a few ideas that I've had so far.

The currently available Shroud mechanics stay the default option with no further requirements. They represent the hapless seeker that stumbles around in the dark with no clear sense of direction or an unhealthy amount of curiosity, someone whose path reveals itself as they move along, for better or worse.

Path of Attainment: this path lets the player choose one boon per level of Spiritualist governing ethic from a selection (so spiritual empires get one pick and fanatically spiritual empires get two). Those boons start out weak and develop gradually over time. Unity can be spent to buy progress. Automatic progression speed is proportional to the difference between current progress and some soft cap so that you need to start spending Unity at some point in order to progress further, with diminishing returns. Psi techs and other (weak) random temporary bonuses are revealed in visions that occur randomly with a probability proportional to path progress. The Shroud can not be contacted deliberately. This path represents monastic or mystic traditions with a focus on gradual enlightenment through disciplined practice.

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Path of Conviction: requires some form of authoritarianism. This path represents the dogmatic approach to spirtuality. Its followers shield their minds from the malevolent forces of the Shroud by adhering to and single-mindedly focusing on their faith whenever they interact with it, and possibly in everyday life as well. This grants a more stable and safe connection to the Shroud, but makes its followers stubborn and resistant to change. Gameplay-wise, this path reduces base leader experience gain by some nontrivial amount, but in exchange, there are more boons offered per Shroud trip, all of them are green (high probability of success) by default, and the chance of drawing a curse when failing to get the boon is significantly reduced. A repeatable special project is available that costs a high amount of social research, but guarantees success on the next Shroud trip. Tech-granting visions and The Chosen One are much more likely to occur, but pacts with entities aren't available at all.

Path of Death: Only available to authoritarian or xenophobic empires with the Death Cult or Corporate Death cult civic. This becomes an unchangeable civic upon choosing the path. Followers of this path embrace the countless dark entities in the Shroud. They enter into a pact that makes them conduits through which Shroud entities can claim even non-psionic individuals. In exchange, the followers are granted boons and powers and are spared from their negative consequences for as long as they regularly satisfy their masters' hunger for souls. Empires that follow this path get the Sacrifice casus belli on empires that have non-mechanical non-psionic pops, and those empires get the Containment (End Threat) casus belli in return (so those wars are total wars). Non-psionic biological species are automatically undesirables and get purged. While any such sacrificial purges are going on, failed Shroud rolls will never result in curses, leader death or the spawning of Corrupted Avatars. If a pact with one of the greater entities is made, each pop sacrificed by Sacrifice edicts or purges prolongs the time until the next drawback roll by half a year (doesn't affect The End of the Cycle, though). A special Colossus weapon can be researched that turns a planet into a Shrouded World, instantly sacrificing all biological pops currently living on it (and killing synths and machines too, of course) and granting automatic success on the next Shroud roll (several "charges" of this can be accumulated that get used up by subsequent Shroud visions). The ethics shift event from The Chosen One leaves Death Cult in place instead of Imperial Cult. Needless to say, other empires that do not follow this path have a very low opinion of those who do and will refuse to deal with them diplomatically at all.

Path of Compassion: haven't worked out the details, but something available to non-xenophobic pacifists that lets them contact a benevolent entity that grants psi techs and mild boons with no drawbacks, greatly speeds up Transcendence assimilation for non-psionic pops and removes the happiness drawback from it, but precludes Shroud trips entirely. Thematically, this represents the worship of some all-loving creator deity.

Other path ideas are welcome, of course. Share your thoughts.

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