I've got a couple of interlocked proposals for a potential Dogs of War. I think that although I'm not too excited by the "southern realms" roster or potential LLs, and I feel like the "full mercenary" system that is the alternative lacks any theme at all, they could provide a very interesting and unique gameplay experience. I also think they are very likely to be a campaign pack, as although I think Nagash is coming and not as a Vampire Count, the Legion of Chaos provides a blueprint for that to be done WITHOUT going for a full Campaign Pack experience.
Note that I'm not going to talk about LLs or rosters. That's been discussed to death already and I don't have anything interesting to add. I'm purely focusing on campaign mechanics - how they play on the main map.
First of all, Dogs of War armies will have high upkeep costs, relative to their income at any rate. You don't want to pay for a standing army on your own. What you want to do, is make someone else pay for it. This is a contract, where a foreign faction will pay you the upkeep of the army, plus a little bit more, to fight their battles for you. While an army is fulfilling a contract, you incur no or at worst limited diplomatic consequences with anyone else. Your target will only dislike you because you have a better relationship with their enemy; no "military actions against us" malus. Oh, and to avoid the case where you fight yourself, maybe you can't simultaneously have contracts with two parties that are at war with one another. Or maybe not, that could be fun!
This would be somewhat similar to the exisiting "War coordination targets" system - the contract giver will give you missions of Kill Army X, Take settlement Y. Note that if you take a settlement, you get some loot, but it's your patron who will occupy the settlement. Or maybe there would be an option to do so, at a severe diplomatic penalty with the other party including the termination of the contract.
So if we're not expecting Dogs of War to occupy settlements for the most part, how do they actually gain money; how do they buff their armies; and how do they recruit troops. Sure, we could give them the horde system, but I don't think anyone has been particularly satisfied with that.
Instead I propose that Dogs of War lean into the outpost system a lot more, as one of their main mechanics. Dogs of War factions will be able to construct outposts in any settlement owned by any faction they aren't actively at war with personally (not merely have a contract against). To construct an outpost, you should have a positive relationship with the owner, and/or have taken some sort of mercenary contract with them.
For the actual owner of the settlement, this outpost would work as a combination of the two outposts that exist as they do now - they add more defenders to the settlement if it comes under attack (with a little detail I will get to), and allow the owner to recruit Dogs Of War units into their armies.
But for a Dogs of War faction, they will use these outposts as their main settlements. As stated above, a truly "independent" Dogs of War army is rare and something you want to be avoiding under most circumstances; this means that you don't actually get access to your own settlements. So you want to be building outposts most of the time.
The tier of the outpost will depend on the tier of the "home" settlement, and maybe also your relationship with the owner. What this produces is a symbiotic relationship with your patron, where you want them to do well. The outposts allow you to gain additional income, recruit troops from the owner's roster (in conjunction with a Mennon-style system where you can recruit core "Dogs of War" units from your homelands off the map) and other bonuses, just like a classic settlement.
The thing is, we should also encourage some extent "easy come, easy go" if the owner starts doing badly and you can't or won't save the city. You will be able to remove the outpost, for a minor relations hit and a cash injection equal to the majority of the cost of the buildings in the outpost. If the city actually comes under attack you will have the choice of siding with the defenders for a relations/gold boost, leaving the city for a reduced amount of income and a more severe relations hit, or siding with the ATTACKERS, starting the siege as a reinforcing army from within the walls, giving a massive relations hit to the original owner but a sizable buff to your relationship with the new management.
Going back to the mercenary aspect of the mechanics, this could also work more generally where your patron's enemy could try to outbid them to get you to stop attacking, or even betray the original patron. It woud be up to you to work out if the diplomatic repercussions are worth the extra cash.
Why does the title mention the map? Well, this system means that we can increase the density of Legendary Lords without actually occupying territory. This means that even if they start in the same province as another LL, they aren't actually going to contribute to a Lustria-bowl situation. In fact, it is in the interest of a Dogs of War faction that there are as many and as long wars as possible, so they will actively contribute to maintaining a status-quo, stopping empires snowballing and gobbling each other up. This should help limit cases where say Grimgor has taken over the entire badlands by turn 60.
Easy come and easy go would imply that you can abandon your patron at any time really, but the mechanics would strongly incentivize you to never abandon a patron really.
If your outposts are directly tied to the settlement's tier and how highly that they think of you, then you would always want them to be growing and making the next tier of settlement. Likewise, you would not want to fight against them because even if you receive no diplomatic penalty, you would be weakening them which in turn weakens you and makes you more vulnerable.
Further, if completing contracts builds diplo reputation, then you would want to do as many contracts for the faction you stick your outpost in. This makes you more of an attachment to whatever faction/race that you are working with since maintaining independent armies is so costly.
At that point, your gameplay loop would essentially be facilitating the expansion of one singular race/faction across the map by acting as the tag-along who would inevitably become weaker than them since you would only get part of the income from settlements and be reliant on their contracts or suffer from your high-income armies.
It also opens up Dogs of War to a very massive problem, and that is, what if your AI patron or if one of their allies declares war on you in the late-game?
Then, you went from massive sprawling system of outposts that stretch the world into a race constantly hemorrhaging money as you try to fight off the massive blob that you created which would basically be game over.
Even if you started taking contracts from their enemies, if you weren't at war with them with your patron, you would have lost most of your outposts and recruitment options.
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Basically there isn't any diplomatic "reputation gain" by completing contracts. I didn't actually think that there should be any diplomatic consequences AT ALL for taking or completing contracts. You're a mercenary, everyone knows this, no-one will hold it against you for doing your job. If you can't complete the contract, maybe there's a minor relations malus, but certainly nothing that's going to make someone ally you or declare war on you.
Now there should probably be some positive consequences for completing contracts, but not in diplomatic terms. More that it becomes easier to get more contracts. But I'm actually hoping that the gameplay loop ends up more, to take an example:
You've got contracts available from Skragg to conquer Altdorf, Karl Franz to kill one of Skragg's tyrants, and Toddy wants you to relieve the siege of Broekwater in the Wastelands. Skragg is getting worryingly powerful so you take Karl Franz's contract. This gives you enough money to set up an outpost in Altdorf. Now Toddy is getting too big for his britches so you take a Laurelorn contract to blow up Gorsel. You upgrade your outpost in Altdorf and get another with the Dwarfs in the Northern Grey Mountains.
But one power becoming super dominant is your worst nightmare. You want to keep everyone big enough that they can get up to tier 5, and no bigger. Then when you're rich enough, you can actually start taking settlements in your own right.
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It only allows for patrons to get them or for you to build outposts in them.
However, you still would want to build up a certain group even without a diplomacy buff from completing contracts. If you invest heavily in say Altdorf, you never want it to fall since you have to build up loads of diplo rep and growth before you can work with another race particularly if your income is largely contract based.
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