Sunday, June 14, 2009

Isolation and Industry - A Civ IV Roleplaying Story

I've blogged before about a mod for Civilization IV called Fall from Heaven II. In short, it's a major overhaul to the game, focused on a fantasy-oriented game with demons, elves, magic and of course, dwarves!

It's a very fun mod, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in a fantasy-based strategic game.

Anyway, on the Civfanatic forums, one player by the name of Shatner posted a story about a game where he decided to roleplay the Khazad (the dwarven civilization in Fall from Heaven), as isolationists focused on making money, and challenged everyone else to give it a try as well. In Fall from Heaven, the Khazad have a unique game mechanic called the Dwarven Vault. Basically, it provides happiness (or unhappiness) based upon how much gold you have on hand divided by the number of cities. To get the biggest benefit from the vault, you need to have 500+ gold per city. So, the rules for this game were as follows:

* You are not allowed to place a 2nd city until your gold reserves reach 1000 gold. And you must never let the Dwarven Vault drop below Overflowing (500+ gold per city)

* You must refuse any and all trades with other players, as well as Open Border agreements

The story of his adventure can be seen here, and below, you can find a summary of my attempts at this type of game!

Game setup: Advanced Start, Panagea, Barbarian World and No Tech Brokering

Khazak was founded in what would be later called 0 A.G. (Above Ground) on a hillside next to a quiet river overlooking the ocean. Layers of valuable marble lay nearby as well as a cows and cotton. This mission to the Sky-gazers world had been funded with great reluctance, and we had strict orders to show that it could turn a profit before expansion would even be considered.

As it turned out, we were actually in a backwater corner of the world, with three narrow land bridges connecting our section of the world to everyone else. The northernmost path was blocked by a mountain, and the southern two were firmly in control of the Bannor people. Isolation it seemed, would not be hard to achieve.

Small dwarven war parties were sent out to scout the lands. They found a number of suitable sites for future settlements, and also kept the barbarians in check, repeatedly raiding and burning a village near a small lake that the orcs stubbornly kept rebuilding.

Starting early on, the Bannor people found themselves constantly at odds with two of their neighbors, the Balseraphs and the Sheaim. The Bannor people were caught in-between these powers and knew only war for their entire lives. But unfortunately for them, they weren't particularly good at it, and their borders steadily shrank.

Acquiring the funds to prove to our sponsors that this expedition was worthwhile proved to be a long and arduous task. But Kilmorph smiled on our efforts, and we found valuable ores in a rock that fell from the sky (which some sages claimed was proof that there is a ceiling above the sky after all). But something clearly wasn't quite right with some of the dwarves. Perhaps that had stood in the sun for too long. Or perhaps this was an initial sign of the coming evil. Whatever the case, we had to deal with no less than four instances of troops who were caught torturing prisoners for fun. The first two times, the troops were summarily dissolved, by the third time, it seemed there was little we could do to halt the process entirely, so only a reprimand was issued, and the fourth time, well... the fourth time was none other than Bambur himself, and the old grayhairs simply muttered into their beards and suddenly found reasons to check the tallies on their gold reserves.

As we waited patiently in our splendidly walled city for the vaults to fill, the Runes of Kilmorph religion was founded in Khazad and skilled dwarven soldier-builders were drawn up into regiments, ready and capable of whatever tasks might be given to them. Not long after, we met our financial goals that had been set, and quickly founded a second settlement nearby called Halowell. Many troops of loyal Soldiers of Kilmorph marched to the new town and quickly erected palisades, walls, a monument and a temple. Within a short few years, our new settlement had all the amenities and its rapid development was a source of pride amongst the architects.

Due to our remote location and adamant refusal to open our borders to anyone, news of the outside was scarce. Oblivious to most of the happenings in the rest of the world, the Dwarven people celebrated their success and wealth, founding a third and then a fourth settlement. It seemed as if everything was going according to plan. We had almost yearly requests from one side or another to join them in their wars against other civilizations that we had barely even heard of, but every envoy was sent away empty-handed. Over the years, the attitudes of the other leaders became increasingly hostile, but none ever went so far as to declare war.

While my dwarves were slowly expanding their territory, things were getting a little wacky in the rest of the world. Keelyn founded Ashen Veil, which was immediately adopted by his Sheaim neighbors the next year, and the Hippus the year after that. It was not long before the Infernals also arrived on the scene (~turn 200, which is the earliest I've ever seen that happen on Epic speed). Evil was quickly encompassing the world.

The dismantling of the Bannor empire proceeded apace, and I quickly found myself with a new neighbor, the oddly strange Balseraph. The only reason the Bannor remained an individual nation at all was because his final two towns were locked behind my securely shut borders and he obviously had a strong moral compunction against swearing fealty to a king who openly sacrifices at the Altar of the Veils. With the Balserpahs came the Broken Lands and Burning Sands. In fact, as I would later discover, about half of the world had been converted to hell terrain by this point. Falamar had also converted to Ashen Veil

The Ljosalfar had (of course) founded and adopted Fellowship of the Leaves, and it turned out that they had a sizeable empire on the other side on the world-encompassing continent. But the only other good civ, the Malakim, foolishly declared war on Hyborem and found themselves also beset by Keelyn, the Lanun and the Clan (who were locked behind the Malakim and with whom we never even had contact). This eventually proved to be too much, and the Malakim bent their necks to the yoke of the Lanun. But interestingly enough, they were allowed to keep their tree-hugging religion and remained known as a Good civilization.

Surprisingly, during all this time, none of the AI players ever declared war on me. Most of them were hostile (except for the Lanun for some reason), and they continued to make various demands, but none seemed willing to rouse the legendary dwarven ire. But I knew it would happen eventually, and my small empire, now encompassing 5 cities would not last long against their combined might. The first gauntlet was thrown down by the Hippus as a stack of horsemen and Diseased Corpses attacked me through my new border with Keelyn.

They were resoundingly beaten and destroyed. Ditto for the next army that was sent my way. But now everyone wanted in on the fun, and I soon had war declarations from Os-Gabella, Keelyn and the Infernals as well. I pushed across the borders and found three nearby Balseraph cities, two of which were on hills. Unfortunately, the coffers were not full enough for acquisition of another settlement. And I didn't want to start razing a bunch of cities and drive up the Armageddon Counter (I was already advantage of every opportunity that I could to lower it), but something had to be done to keep the battles from ravaging the developed parts of my lands.

The dwarven elders gathered together in their deep halls for some serious discussion and finally agreed that something drastic would need to be done. In the dead of night, secret envoys were sent out to the beleaguered Bannor people. The Khazad borders were opened to select foreigners for the first time ever. Thankfully the Bannor population was pitifully small and they showed little willingness to venture into Dwarven lands. Another promise was made to the Bannor by the dwarves. We would strike at the Balseraphs and attempt to free the enslaved towns, bestowing any on flat land back to the Bannor, keeping only two settlements for ourselves, both of which happened to sit atop a lovely set of hills (well maybe not so lovely with demons, disembodied screams and other such nightmares stalking their hell-scarred slopes, but that would be dealt with later). To try and help bolster the pitiful humans, we also sent them free shipments of Iron from the famous Mines of Gal-Dur.

And so it began, Bambur led the main Dwarven assault force, consisting of Trebuchets, Stonewardens and Axemen. The dwarves had taken riding lessons, but alas, it turned out that there were no pigs to be found anywhere and the early experiments into cow-riding ended only in disaster. So this would be it. Solid dwarven muscle tramping off to battle on their own two feet. That's how it should be anyway. By Stone and Hammer and Rock and Thew we would prove our worth!

The first flatland Balseraph town fell easily and was returned to Bannor control. Unfortunately, their army had apparently not gotten the memo, so it fell to the dwarves to defend the town from retaliatory strikes. This sudden switch from attacking force to occupying policemen brought my progress to a grinding crawl before it even started. Eventually some Bannor defense forces arrive and I was able to move away from that town and approach the first target. But as the war machines slowly slogged through the scarred landscape, assassins and taskmasters jumped out from behind every rock, destroying many Trebuchets before they could even get in range of the city walls. So again my attacking armies ground to a halt, fortifying on nearby hills as more siege engines were ordered to the front lines. Unfortunately, it turned out that only one settlement had the know-how to create these magnificent rock-slingers, so production was slow.

And then, not two turns before I was about to launch a full-out assault, a Royal Guard moved into the town I was about to siege. Royal Guard, fortified, in a city, on a hill, and I only have a handful of trebuchets. This isn't good. I obviously needed more firepower. So more troops were called up, research into better weapons was ordered, but it was already too late. As my forces gathered in the hills, enemy armies from all the evil nations began marching into my lands. Every 10 years or so, a new army would approach. Sometimes it was the Infernals, their Imps driving the demons and undead forward. Other times it would be the Hippus, with armies of catapults, flanked by horsemen. But they always followed the same path than brought them right between the hills were my armies were gathering. These were destroyed every time, but my losses were just enough to keep me static. And the opposing forces began to field meaner and nastier troops. Ritualists, Berserkers, Arbequeses, and finally even a Phalanx. Things were not looking favorable for the dwarves...

And that's were I ended. Keelyn is the dominant evil power, with the Sheaim and the Hippus as his vassals. On the opposite side of the world, the Ljosalfar have the highest score and they, along with their angelic allies, are at war with the evil empires as well, but no cities have fallen for either side on that front.

I probably could keep playing and just hunker down, fortify the hills near my borders and snipe at any armies that try to pass by as I play tech catch-up, but seeing as how I'm fighting with Axeman, Soldiers of Kilmorph and Stonewardens and my enemies are now sending Phalanxes my way, that sounds a bit too tedious and frustrating for me.

Post-game Thoughts

Despite my imminent doom, this was a pretty fun game and I'll likely try it again. Being limited to one city for so long allowed me to build up plenty of soldiers so that any subsequent cities were quickly filled with whatever buildings they needed, which is a very nice way to expand. But I'm not sure what to do about the tech gap. I can see where disabling tech trading could help, since that will be limiting the AI to some of the same self-imposed player restrictions for playing as Isolationists. Despite having seen such an early founding and adoption of Ashen Veil, and also an early entry by Hyborem (who for once wasn't consigned to the icy wastes), the Armageddon Counter only stands at 22. I know I happened to get a couple of events that allowed me to lower it a bit, but I am a bit surprised that it's not much higher. Perhaps the elves had also been working to keep it low.

My attempts to bring the Bannor into it and break the Pact of Isolation were purely self-serving, and ended up having little effect in the long run. Having only five cities for production, I had hoped that the Bannor could at least contribute some warm bodies to the fray. Which they did, but it was not enough. And since my coffers were not full enough to support another town, I wanted some way to push control back towards the Balseraph lands without leaving a big empty area with a razed city were anyone could come along and plop down a new one. And ultimately, the city limit is what hurt me. I was forced to delay my attack of the hillside town for many turns while my funds built up, and by the time I could attack, the defensive forces were too much for me to overcome.

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