[RoTK] You got your RPG all up in my Grand Strategy

Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys BiohackerRegistered User regular
What is Romance of the Three Kingdoms?
Apart from being an ancient Chinese epic about a period of strife and civil war in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., it's also a very long-running series of simulation / strategy games developed by Koei. Ports of the series go all the way back to the original on the NES, and now the 13th installment is available on Steam and the PSN (for PS4).

What's it like?
Focusing on the 13th installment, it's a hybrid sort of game with a lot of elements to it. You play as one of the many actors from the Three Kingdoms saga (or as an original officer you create yourself), and you can choose from various starting scenarios during the period. The goal is to either unite China under your rule (if you're a ruler) or help unite the country under your ruler's banner (if you're an officer). The expansion pack adds some additional win conditions and playstyles also.

The game is mostly a real-time grand strategy game not too dissimilar to games like Crusader Kings II. Time advances over a measurement of days, with various tasks taking different amounts of days to complete. Most tasks are executed through menus; there's a lot of old school in this one. Battles play out on a separate tactical screen and are real-time with pausing; while active, days will pass automatically as the action unfolds.

Most strategy games focus on resource management, army positioning, and diplomacy, and to be sure, there's some of that in Romance. However, those areas are fairly light compared to the game's true focus: characters and relationships. As with Crusader Kings, who you are & what everyone else thinks of you is by far the most important aspect to the game. You'll have to split your time between improving your cities, improving yourself, and improving relationships with other people. Which is more important depends a lot on your current rank and long-term aspirations. Unlike Crusader Kings, the entire game unfolds over a series of one or two lifetimes (usually), so developing your character is substantially more important than trying to ensure the longevity of your dynasty.

RPG elements include a plethora of statistics and skills that define your character. Characters are absolutely not balanced against each other, and you can drastically alter the game's difficulty (and in some ways your potential) depending on who you choose to start out as. You can forge bonds with other officers, get married, raise children, train your stats and skills, accumulate treasures, and even complete Requests (quests) for renown and rewards. Many of your tasks and efforts will require winning military Duels or intellectual Debates against other officers, which play out as entirely separate tactical sub-systems within the game that make use of your relevant stats and skills.

All of this is woven into a story-rich tapestry that is straight-up unique among strategy games. You get similar emergent storytelling as you might find with Crusader Kings, with villainous rival lords that execute your bond officers, becoming your archnemesis (and in battle, your character will ignore all orders, even your own, to lead their force straight after your hated nemesis -- at least if you're of a reckless enough personality). Events from the historical epic set the stage and can greatly alter the course of play. Every single one of the many hundreds of characters has full 2D artwork and a Bio that tells you about their role in either the epic or in history.

Wow, that's a lot in one game! Is this too good to be true?
Well, yes and no. The split focus does indeed make each of the individual elements a lot more shallow than other games that focus on just one thing. You'll get a deeper grand strategy experience from a Paradox title, a better tactical wargame from Total War, and a better RPG pretty much anywhere. Duels and Debates are fun but simple, quests are repetitive fetch quests with minimal interactivity outside of one of the two aforementioned systems, and military battles are relatively straightforward affairs. Developing towns and relationships mostly requires trading days for points and waiting for the time to pass until the efforts are complete.

All that said, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is far, far greater as a sum of its parts. These fairly minimal systems could have easily felt disconnected and pointless; instead, they combine together into a series of interesting decisions from a broader view that meld into a single interconnected picture. Grinding bigger numbers could have felt rote and dated, but the fact that you never really have enough time to do everything you need to do, yet are constantly rewarded with advancement in tons of different areas, means that the game really grips you with the "just one more turn" feeling (despite being quasi-real-time). And though dialogue is repetitive (and mostly unvoiced), it's adequate to set the stage and let your imagination weave a grand story around your heroic adventures.

It's not an approachable game. It's only voiced in Japanese and Chinese, it has a lot of static (if attractive) 2D art, and the various menu options and skill names are of questionable translation. The tutorial is incomplete and relatively boring (except for the story elements that appeal to geeks of the epic).

But if you're into grand strategy games and RPGs, you probably don't care about that; "approachable" might even be a dirty word to you. If that's the case, and/or if you love the Three Kingdoms saga, you really should check this out.

What's this Fame and Strategy thing?
This series has done DLC since back before DLC was a thing. They called them "power-up kits." We never really got them over in the US where only console versions were typically released; these add-ons were traditionally only for PC users. Thankfully, those days are over, and Fame and Strategy is available worldwide.

Quite frankly, you need to own this pack. It fleshes out character relationships and officer gameplay in several critical ways. Since that's the heart of the game, it's basically non-optional. If you're going to play at all, play it with this DLC.

Hmm, this game didn't get very good reviews...
The series has always hovered in the 70s in reviews, mostly because of the weak visuals and unapproachable menu-based interface. It's maintained a huge cult following despite that; this is the game series that put Koei on the map.

Many of the criticisms from the initial reviews (including the mixed reviews from players) were addressed with the Fame & Strategy pack. That's why I said it's basically non-optional.

Some games in the series have only permitted you to play as the ruler, focusing on realm development and strategy instead of characters and relationships. Fans who love those games and dislike the hybrid games such as this one (and X, the last one made in this style) probably won't find too much to bother with here.

It's still a bit expensive!
The game regularly goes on sale on both Steam and the PSN. It has a bundle that includes Fame & Strategy, which is an excellent option.

I will note that on the PS4, the individual DLCs (at least the free ones) don't seem to work right now with the bundle. The console appears to be trying to find the bundle-free version of the game to attach them to. I haven't been able to find separate downloads for the bundle, and I've verified that at least most of the content (like the soundtracks) are not available out of the box in the bundle version. I have no idea if this is going to get a fix, so if you want those smaller DLCs, maybe buy the separate versions.

What exactly does Fame and Strategy offer?
In short: you get new options for improving Rapport with other officers, a graphical chart screen for showing various relationship webs, and most importantly, Prestige tree options for character development. In addition to an expected set of branches for various types of officers & rulers, Fame & Strategy adds the Patriot and Merchant branches, which allow you to play the entire game as a Free Officer, neither raising a flag nor bending a knee to any of China's various warlords. As a Patroit, you can raise a private army, recruit a set of comrades, and rampage around China as a bandit king, plundering your way to wealth and glory. Or you can take a warrior of peace route, forcibly ending hostilities between rival warlords and even attacking held cities, "liberating" them from rule by any warlord. Or you can become a literal assassin, slaughtering key figures to alter how events unfold. You can use these powers to nudge the game toward following the story of the epic (fulfilling events and the like), or to make everything branch wildly and hysterically without having to actually get involved in the politics yourself.

There's also a Merchant mode where you're basically trading and investing around the country, seeking to accumulate a vast total of wealth. I haven't tried this path yet, but it seems pretty wildly divergent from everything else the series has really done.

How about mods?
It's got 'em! If you're on console, you can't download other people's mods. However, even the console version ships with editors. You can create or edit officers, events, starting conditions, and so forth to make entirely new scenarios of your own design. You can also turn off historical events and randomize some of the starting conditions in order to add variety and focus on the strategic aspects of the game separate from the context of the epic.

Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting


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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    I bought this game as the bundle during the year-end PSN sale, and it has its hooks in me something fierce. Romance of the Three Kingdoms X is one of my top-5 favorite games ever and one of the most influential games on me personally, and this game is scratching all the same itches. I'm going to need a few hundred hours with it before I can tell if it's better or not, but right now I absolutely adore it.

    After toying around with the tutorial (first half of Hero Mode) and a short foray into a Patriot game, I decided to do a larger, somewhat more traditional campaign, filled with save-scumming to help me learn what happens when I do the various things the game permits. It's also handy when you lose a lot of time trying to figure out what that awkwardly-translated hint is telling you to do.

    So, here's the story so far of my original officer's rise to glory.

    Yun Jing, Yellow Turban

    Yun Jing was an exceptional case from young age. Violently rebelling against the oppressive role she was expected to take on as a woman of her time, she saw opportunity during the Yellow Turban Rebellion to strike out and make something of herself on her own terms.

    In school she excelled in all areas and displayed a mastery of the martial arts to boot (translation: starting age 15, initial Leadership and War stats in the upper 80s, initial Intelligence and Governance stats in the mid 90s, putting her approximately on par with Cao Cao and making for a lower difficulty first game; additionally she has lots of skills at various levels, which I probably overshot a bit here based on reading about skill improvements from pre-expansion days).

    Women of her day were expected to use their beauty to advance their station, and Jing certainly had both the education and the talent to do this herself; however, rather than doing so in order to marry her way into status and power, she instead learned to wield it as yet another weapon (translation: she has the Allure tactic, which when used in battle will, as an AOE, slam enemy morale and give a large temporary debuff to their attack power; additionally her default Prestige goal is Alluring Beauty, the unique option for Diao Chan, which upon reading is hilariously more powerful in the hands of a ruler than some random officer striving to improve her station).

    After spending a few months building a reputation among the townsfolk and getting to know some local dignitaries, Yun Jing eventually came into the employ of Zhang Jiao and his Yellow Turban Army. She brought her good friend Li Fu into the ranks and also befriended several Yellow Turban generals. Her skills were exceptional among the mostly ragtag army of brutes and peasant discontents, and Zhang Jiao quickly promoted her to Minister of War over the entire rebellion.

    This decision proved timely. Zhang Jiao died of illness before much longer, and while Zhang Bao was an adequate replacement, the rebellion's situation was dire. The forces of He Jin matched them in strength, but the general's officers were of much greater talent than the average Yellow Turban. Yun Jing used her personable talents to rally more capable officers to the cause, then mounted an effective defense against He Jin's best men, forcing a lengthy ceasefire and permitting the Rebellion to last far longer than it should have by rights.

    Tragedy Strikes

    This fortune was not to last, however. The violent warlord Ding Yuan and his adoptive son Lu Bu began carving their way through northern Turban territory. Two of Yun Jing's good friends, including Li Fu, were put to death by the bloodthirsty warlord. Jing declared him her arch-nemesis and vowed revenge. When Yuan's army advanced once more, Yun Jing rallied the entire Turban force to meet them on the battlefield. Racing recklessly into battle, she defeated Ding Yuan's unit and captured the villain. However, enemy reinforcements kept pouring in, and Lu Bu mounted a daring attack, routing Yellow Turban forces and freeing his father. Jing was forced to retreat, ultimately defeated.

    The ceasefire with He Jin ended as well, and soon the home base of Yie was under siege. Yun Jing saw the signs: the Rebellion was over. Though Zhang Bao was a close friend, staying here would mean not just her own death, but also the deaths of her many comrades. In the five years under Turban employ, Yun Jing's reputation had spread throughout the land. Undefeated in dozens of battles of both weapon and the mind (perfect Duel and Debate record so far), well-connected with numerous individuals, and possessed of legendary beauty, Yun Jing had become a household name (advanced up the Prestige tree of Advisor from Orator to Luminary to Celebrity, a single step away from the Alluring Beauty final goal). That meant she'd made many friends and confidants that owed her their personal loyalty, and she felt a measure of responsibility toward them as well.

    Any mercy she could expect from the advancing forces of He Jin would mean a life of servitute and a return to a traditional sort of life, not to mention the likely execution of her male entourage. Though she'd willingly face death than submit to captivity, living to fight again seemed the best option. With a heavy heart, she and her comrades abandoned the Yellow Turbans and traveled far to the west. A mere ten days into the trip, news reached her ears that Zhang Bao was dead.

    Land of Opportunity

    Amidst the chaos, the city of Chengdu in Bashu was without a governor. This became Yun Jing's destination. With her came several officers of great talent -- Ju Shou, Xiahou Dun, Liao Hua, Guo Jia, Yu Jin, and more. And upon arriving in Chengdu, she found many talented administrators waiting for someone of skill to work under. Even here word of her deeds and talent had spread, and she had little difficulty adding a dozen new officers to her employ.

    The northern cities in Bashu were under the control of Dong Zhuo, an ambitious warlord who as yet had avoided involving himself in any hostilities but continued to expand his sphere of influence. Zhuo's armies were too great for Yun Jing's small forces, so she traveled to Hanzhong to directly improve rapport with the warlord. She bestowed upon the greedy man several gifts from her treasury with much success. However, her enterprising underlings continued to bribe officers away from Dong Zhuo's employ, meaning that this was only going to work for so long. Eventually the warlord would strike.

    To prepare for this, Jing set out to the south, taking the cities within the mountainous regions of the Nanman peoples. That helped, but only so much. Eventually there would come a clash, and Yun Jing knew she'd be forced to defeat a much larger opposing force. What she lacked in manpower she made up for in quality, at least in her officers. The troops themselves were poorly equipped and untrained, leaving much to be desired. Work must progress quickly, or this endeavor too would end in total defeat...

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    Discourse With Dong


    With Dong Zhuo threatening war, Yun Jing had only one option - secure a Ceasefire agreement with the warlord. Sending an underling would take too long and would not be sure to succeed, so she set out herself, calling in a Debt owed by Zhuo.

    Relations in this game are pretty distinct from previous entries and even other strategy games. Instead of simply having a relations value, it uses the personal Rapport and Bond values between rulers. These can change from state-level interactions, which is pretty distinct from how Rapport usually changes between officers. In addition to that, there's a Debt value; securing agreements causes you to owe Debts to the other nation, while giving them agreements (or building up Goodwill, which usually requires payments in Gold) adds Debts to you. When an officer is pursuing any kind of negotiation, such as Alliance, Ceasefire, or Release Prisoner, the officer has to spend some time cajoling with the target's underlings to build support for the endeavor. Calling in Debts greatly speeds this process, reducing the time and increasing the chance of success. If you get it to 100% then you succeed automatically; get it over 80% and you can pursue it with the ruler, who will then either debate you directly or send a ranking minister to do so.

    With no time to wheel and deal with underlings, Yun Jing went directly to Dong Zhuo's palace to make her appeal. Even with the debt owed from her previous tribute offering, Zhuo wasn't quite convinced and asked his minister Jia Xu to take over negotiations in a public debate. Jia Xu was well-known for his extremely sharp mind; this would be the greatest test thus far for Yun Jing's wordsmithing.

    Jia Xu's Intelligence rating was 95, a bit below my Item/Comrade/Rank enhanced 103. But his Oratory skill was a level above mine, giving him a slight overall advantage. This is the first time I've entered any Duel or Debate with a disadvantage, and losing this one would effectively be Game Over. That meant I had to choose each option correctly through the 5 rounds of play. I had two Ignore options, which basically kill the round without dealing or receiving any damage. I always start with one of these in order to try to maneuver into an advantage, but in this case Jia Xu did the exact same thing. The following three rounds were tense trade-offs, leaving me with just the slightest advantage in points. I finished the set with my last Ignore, sealing a very close victory.

    Jia Xu's stunning defeat added further to Yun Jing's reputation; Dong Zhuo agreed to a 24-month Ceasefire and left the room Charmed by Jing, though she now owed the warlord 3 Debts. Taking advantage of the Charm, she visited him personally, lifting Rapport as high as it could get without becoming Friends, something that seemed rather unlikely in current circumstances. That done, she rode back to Chengdu. She'd need to take full advantage of the next 2 years to secure a stable position in Southwest China.

    Expansion and Development

    Image of western China from one of the game's starting scenarios (Chi Bi, I think). I've circled my domain in red and Dong Zhuo's domain in purple. My capital Chengdu is the northernmost city in that region. Shi Xie actually controls the three southern cities this starting scenario grants him. East of this, pretty much all the terrain outside the far north is owned by He Jin and Sun Jian.

    Yun Jing immediately ordered her troops to march on the two remaining free cities of the area, claiming them and solidifying the region under her command. This greatly increased her military power, though it spread out her officers and emptied her warehouses of their Supplies. Dong Zhuo's cities to the north were better developed overall, and Shi Xie to the south had created a veritable metropolis, safely away from the chaos of the rebellion. By comparison Yun Jing's cities had been neglected by the Imperial Court.

    She allocated qualified governors to cities and issued an edict to focus on local development. Farming would be the key, as without Supplies her greater troop numbers would be to no avail. While her men worked on this, she continued with training her soldiers. Chengdu advanced from Low to Medium Prosperity, bringing greater riches and defensive technologies. Her only hope would be to work like the wind to finish transforming Chengdu into a prosperous base of power. There were no more qualified men to recruit, no more cities to control without declaring war on a mightier neighbor. It was now a game of time management.

    While having your officers do things is certainly effective, AI officers take anywhere from 2x to 10x as long to complete tasks. Presumably this is because they're spending some of their time working on other things, like improving relationships, securing wealth, and expanding their manors. I certainly did this myself when I was an underling and didn't care about the future of the force to which I belonged. But as a Ruler, I could no longer afford to toss time away at such frivolous endeavors. By focusing my character's full attention on improving city values, I could advance it far faster than the AI. This would be critical, because I have a lot of catching up to do.

    It's a bit of a drag given that my character's Prestige Ambition (Alluring Beauty) requires making a ton of connections with other officers. Specifically, I need to have 50 potential comrades, which is an insane number (I'm like halfway there and at the step right before it in the tree). There's a Letters system where you can develop relationships between people that you know, which is a useful way to expand this number (and your Fame, which I guess helps this whole thing in some way as well). I'm having to rely entirely on that; Letters take time to complete, but they don't occupy any of your character's attention, so you can complete other tasks simultaneously.

    If I survive, I'll eventually get a chance to expand and recruit officers from belligerent neighbors. Shi Xie has tons of troops but only 5 officers, so going south would mostly be a waste of time. That means war with Dong Zhuo. Offensive war is flat impossible as he has me too outnumbered, but I could maybe win a defensive war with clever play at my city gates. Basically I have to wait for the Yellow Turbans to lose their last city and see if that kicks off events with He Jin's assassination at the hands of the Ten Eunuchs (the setup event for this already occurred). That would put Dong Zhuo in the capital and start the Coalition against him. But it would also give him Lu Bu, and if it doesn't get rid of his western territories, it might leave me even more screwed.

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    FrosteeyFrosteey Elaise 1521-2945-8940Registered User regular
    Nice read. I've started the majority of my ROTK games over the years as a custom officer ragtag startup.

    I've had 13 installed for a while but haven't really dug in yet. The mixed reviews worried me so I waited for a sale but I like what I've seen so far.

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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    Yeah, looking through the Steam reviews it seems performance issues / bugs are a lot of what's behind the negatives. That's unfortunate; I'm not having so many issues on PS4, and I'm pretty sure these are native PC games ported to console.

    The Southern War

    With the Ceasefire nearing its end, and Debts already owed from its original inception, Yun Jing had only one option: pursue an alliance with Dong Zhuo. She went back for another set of visits, but this time Jia Xu got the better of her in debates. She was forced to spend more time bartering and cajoling, which had the happy effect of Jia Xu being convinced and writing a letter in support of the alliance. The final debate was against a much easier foe, and a 24-month alliance agreement was secured.

    This done, Yun Jing saw that she had only one option for expansion: the southern cities governed by Shi Xie. At the very least, bringing the Shi clan under her umbrella would let her break even in terms of spreading out the talent, and there was quite the metropolis there on the southern coast that would give a huge leg up in future defensive wars against Zhuo. So, she gathered her armies together in the center of her domain and charged.

    Shi's forces met her on the fields north of their metropolis. This would be an easy battle; Yun Jing's forces outnumbered Shi Xie's, her soldiers were well-trained, and her officers were talented at warfare. Everything seemed to be going great, and then disaster struck.

    Shi Xie's son died in battle in a clash with Yun Jing's unit.

    With that, any hopes of recruiting the Shi clan faded. Several of them, including Xie himself, declared her their arch-nemesis immediately. With a sigh, Jing finished routing the enemy troops and conquered the metropolis. Xie was captured and too upset to accept any sort of apologies, understandably so. Yun Jing had no real choice but to execute him.

    Wasting no time, she moved east to begin taking the second city. Dong Zhuo sensed an opportunity however, and marched an army south to take Shi Xie's third and final city at the same time. That meant Yun Jing's domain would be completely enclosed on all sides by Dong Zhuo's territory. After this war ended, she would have absolutely no choice but to go to war against her friend and ally. Truth be told, both warlords were aware from the beginning that it would come to this.

    While Yun Jing's holdings were bolstered substantially with the addition of the two captured cities, she failed to gain a single officer from the endeavor. With a little over a year left on the alliance, it was time to do something about that.

    The Great Journey


    When the Yellow Turban Rebellion finally ended, several new warlords appeared with cities under their control. Yuan Shu, Kong Rong, Gongsun Du, and Han Fu each became independent warlord-governors of cities in thanks for their service.

    They found themselves surrounded by the armies of Sun Jian and Ding Yuan. Yuan Shu and Gongson Du would fall immediately, with Han Fu in dire straits.

    My meddling caused the Rebellion to last too long, so when it ended, there were a lot of large and powerful forces on the map. Sun Jian in particular controlled most of historical Wu and part of southern Wei. Ding Yuan's conquests continued thanks to the efforts of Lu Bu. And since the map was mostly filled in, the final big event -- the assassination of He Jin, control of Dong Zhuo, and appearance of remaining warlords -- could not occur. The effects of this would be even more dire than I had anticipated...

    Leaving orders for her domain to focus entirely on military development, Yun Jing set off on a great journey across China. She visited city after city, finding free officers wandering aimlessly following the collapse of their new warlords. Other men of talent also appeared, the notable Huang Zhong among them. For the better part of a year she ventured, adding a dozen new officers to her ranks. But the alliance was nearing its end; it was time to return home and prepare.

    Achieving the Celebrity rank means I could Refer officers to join my forces if I had 60 personal Rapport with them. That's incredible, because usually you can only recruit free officers within your own cities and other forces' officers from bordering cities. This, then, was a special option available just to me. I've been astounded at how powerful this tree is, but then I learned why the Commander tree is often even better for force leaders -- you're permitted to have a private army of soldiers that bolsters your force troops in battle. So, it actually seems pretty balanced in the end.

    Jing split her officers with preparation for war in mind. She ensured the largest cities with the most troops had talented military leaders present so they could reinforce any front-line cities besieged in the coming war. She finished up the training of her forces, granting access to Elite Knights and special Eastern Infantry units provided by a local loyal village. With such elite forces, Dong Zhuo's armies would be no match for her, she believed.

    The Invasion Begins

    The alliance ended. Word came pretty much immediately: Dong Zhuo was invading on two fronts with a combined force size of around 200,000 men.

    Jing's heart sank. That was far too many soldiers. Zhuo would outnumber them 2-to-1, and Yun Jing still had 25k troops tied up dealing with a Bandit King. The best she could hope for was to hold off and see if He Jin or Sun Jian would launch attacks at Zhuo's exposed back. Alas, this would not occur; Dong Zhuo enjoyed a continued alliance with both forces.

    And this is why missing out on He Jin's assassination event really screwed me. The three big leaders apparently won't attack each other until then, mostly to ensure that they take out the Yellow Turbans. That meant that, apart from a smattering of weak warlords in the North, I'm essentially alone against the entirety of China. That's quite the tall task for my very first game.

    Fortunately, Zhuo's armies had inferior leaders and training, and Dong's arrogance meant that he didn't bother grouping up his forces for a single assault. Rather, he sent each force to attack the cities as fast as they could get there. With this, Yun Jing had a chance to offer resistance.

    She sent most of her forces to the southern city of Hepa, the smaller of the two cities she'd taken from Shi Xie and one of the two focal points of Dong Zhuo's invasion. Between the metropolis's large armies and Guo Jia's esteemed leadership of Hepa, she had to simply hope for the best. Xiahou Dun marched from the north to help, and Liao Hua would advance as soon as he finished mopping up the Bandit King's forces.

    That left Chengdu, the other target of Dong's invasion, to mostly defend itself; only one city was available to offer defensive support. Yun Jing rallied her armies and set out to meet the invaders on the road. Since they were attacking from two sides, she hoped to defeat their split armies and manage a strong defense at Chengdu's walls.

    Sample siege battle in RoTK13

    The strategy worked. She easily repelled the army advancing from the East and returned to Chengu before Dong Zhuo's main force arrived. Fighting a defensive battle now only slightly outnumbered was unquestionably in her favor, and she routed the invader with very few losses. Another pair of straggler forces reached Chengdu after the battle ended, and Jing easily mopped them up as well. Meanwhile, Guo Jia had only just managed to hold off Hepa long enough for reinforcements to arrive and win a close defensive victory there. Things were looking up!

    With her troops rallying and Zhuo's reeling, Yun Jing went on the offensive. She marched north, ripping a city from enemy hands and fighting off another pair of defensive armies. From there, she headed east and took a second border city. The core plains of Bashu were at last under her control!

    From here, she had three solid options. She could march east to Yongan, taking control of the defensible pass into Bashu. She could advance north to Hanzhong, ripping a couple more powerful cities away from Dong's control. Or she could stop here, putting together a Ceasefire and rebuilding her forces. Yun Jing called together a council of her brightest minds to formulate a plan...

    Honestly I appear to have been saved here by an AI bug. Dong Zhuo had another 80,000 troops massing on a village north of Hepa, and Sun Jian had another 35,000 east of the city. Neither set of troops marched, and Sun Jian eventually recalled his armies. With my southern armies in tatters, I couldn't have even defended against 40k, much less 80-115k. I don't know if something got stuck in the AI routines, or if it was deciding to go on the defensive and make sure I didn't launch any counter-attacks at the vulnerable border cities. Either way I decided I was okay with this, because frankly it's ridiculous that I have to fight both Dong Zhuo and Sun Jian anyway. Lesson learned: don't ever help the Yellow Turbans survive unless you plan to win as the Yellow Turbans!

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    SynthesisSynthesis Honda Today! Registered User regular
    edited January 2018
    Thank you for making this thread. A week or two ago, the business manager at the department at the university I work at, who's from China, mentioned how huge a fan he was of the series--and the most recent one is available in English and on Xbox (I hadn't even considered modding), digitally only (as with PS4? I guess.). Assuming I wouldn't be hugely out of my depth, I thought it might be a nice way to past the time before the ROTK Total War game comes out.

    I'll be reading this thread with great interest.

    Synthesis on
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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    Pressing the Advantage

    Yun Jing decided securing Bashu would be the best way forward, so she advanced her troops east to Yongan. The long roads on both sides of Yongan made the city important for defense, as Bashu territory is a bit spread out and often difficult to traverse. Yongan fell fairly easily to Jing's assault; however, Dong Zhuo's main force advanced south from his home base of Hanzhong and retook northern Bashu. Jing was forced to pull back and meet those forces once again. This battle, too, was a success, and Jing retook northern Bashu; however, while that was happening, Jia Xu advanced and retook Yongan for Dong Zhuo's forces.

    It was now clear that Yun Jing would have to choose. She couldn't both battle Dong Zhuo's main invasion troops and hold onto Yongan. Northern Bashu or Eastern Bashu. Not both.

    It would be another warlord who would make the choice easy for her. During all the chaos with Zhuo's forces, Ma Teng decided to strike out from his single city in the northwest. He would attack Dong Zhuo's exposed flank repeatedly, but Zhuo would round up some armies, counter-attack, and drive Ma Teng back into his city. Yun Jing realized that if she attacked from Bashu, Zhuo wouldn't be able to defend both sides at once.

    The choice made, Yun Jing set out to the north, battling waves of Dong's battalions. Her superior forces continued to win success after success against Zhuo's ragtag recruits. Though some ping-ponging was needed, she managed to take both cities to the north, driving Dong Zhuo behind the sturdy gate that guarded passage to his base in Hanzhong. Meanwhile, Ma Teng had successfully attacked and claimed a city in the northwest. The plan was working.

    My territory outlined in red, Dong Zhuo's in purple, Ma Teng's in brown, and He Jin's western extremes in blue. This has some corrections from the previous map, where I had incorrectly assigned some of He Jin's territory to Dong Zhuo. I look bigger than I am in this map, as my territory has tons of long roads and empty space between the cities.

    End of the Campaign

    Alas, in her fervor to secure territory from Dong Zhuo and ensure the longevity of her Bashu region, Yun Jing made a critical error that would spell doom to her entire endeavor.

    Having conquered as far north as she intended, Jing decided to launch an assault on the gate west of Hanzhong, which divided her recent conquests from Dong Zhuo's main base. Her plan was to take the gate so that any future attacks by Zhuo would be greatly slowed by the need to breach the pass. To do this, she had to battle through another wave of battalions, lay siege to the gate, then finally crash through it when Dong Zhuo's main force came to defend it. She was ultimately victorious, and Zhuo retreated to Hanzhong as though to make one final stand.

    But Yun Jing was not interested in taking Hanzhong. Not only would it be more difficult to defend from the east, but it would also put her in perilous reach of He Jin. The general had not forgotten her origin as a Yellow Turban, and though the Emperor bestowed titles upon her, she knew that He Jin would attack if given the opportunity.

    Unfortunately, she completely missed the road connection between her northern-most conquest and He Jin's western metropolis of Changan. The road cut straight between two of Dong Zhuo's cities, establishing a direct connection. Within days of her victory at the gates, He Jin launched his assault.

    Cao Cao, the governor of Chang An, would lead an expeditionary force of over 175,000 elite troops. Every single unit was led by a group of highly talented officers, among the best in the realm. The soldiers were fully equipped and as well-trained as any soldier could be. And they outnumbered Yun Jing's remaining forces by more than 4 to 1.

    Yun Jing could offer no resistance to their advance. They plowed through her main force as easily as she'd been plowing through Dong Zhuo's. With the connection thus established, there was no way to break it. He Jin would be able to continue his assault through all of her territory, and there was no feasible way to stop it. Just like that, she was done.

    And that's pretty much the end of this, my first real foray into Romance of the Three Kingdoms 13. I learned a whole bunch through making lots of mistakes, some of which I loaded after to try something else, others of which I accepted.

    This one I accepted and decided to close out with, because even if I went back and avoided taking that city, actually winning this campaign would be hellish and take far more hours than I'd care to invest. Thanks to the event-driven hugbox between Dong Zhuo, He Jin, and Sun Jian, they were able to expand recklessly, and He Jin was able to completely max out several of his cities. And he still had most of the game's best generals in his employ since they're supposed to spread out into independent forces after his event assassination.

    So, I learned lessons for scenario 1: don't muck up the historical events until after He Jin's assassination unless you plan to win as the Yellow Turbans. If you're going to attempt that, you basically need to take out Sun Jian immediately before he expands freely to 1/4 of China, and you need to take out He Jin fast before he can max out those rich cities he starts with. Those are both tall orders for the surrounded and outmatched Turbans, so you probably want to give them a bunch of custom-made officer talent to even the odds, at least until you get really good at the game.

    Regarding the Prestige tree I was attempting, I've learned how to better read the requirements and properly plan for advancement. I had no real concept of what would be required to have 50 potential Comrades to unlock the final node. When I finished the game, with my character age 31 (16 years in), I still only had 42 potential Comrades. It's a tall order to get that many and requires serious investment from Day 1.

    I'm going to take a break from a bit, then try another game in the same scenario with the same character. I'll take her into the editor to tweak a few things (weakening her ridiculous skillset for one), and I'll also add a bunch more custom officers. My plan next time is to start with a collection of free officers in an empty city, recruit them all as Comrades so they don't wander off and mess with history, then go get myself recruited by He Jin to try to finish off the Turbans as fast as possible, collecting as many more Friends and the like as possible in the meantime. I'll still set off and found my own country somewhere, but I'll probably end up in a different starting location. If I do everything right, Liu Yan will have Bashu by event, but Sun Jian should hopefully wind up with less territory. Southeast China might be a better bet.

    Failing that, I'll join some weak warlord, launch a Revolt, and take all their stuff. I could even give Shu another try by doing this to Liu Zhang after Liu Yan dies, since historical events will certainly get interrupted long before Liu Bei and Chibi.

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular
    Made some character tweaks and generated a set of additional characters, including some sisters to start a new game alongside. This time I didn't join any force for quite awhile; same scenario. Events played out with almost perfect precision, even down to approximately correct dates. Bunches of new forces popped up, Luoyang was properly burned after the Coalition formed, etc.

    One thing I noticed was that the events all just completely made up the battles. Events fired for the Coalition and Battle of Hulao Gate, but there was absolutely zero actual aggression that happened within the game itself. On the one hand that's understandable -- it would take a monumental amount of scripting and precision to actually get those battles to fire appropriately within the game engine itself. But on the other hand, it would be kind of nice if the game mechanics could better simulate these things happening.

    I spent all that time building up a network of friends and comrades, focusing on taking a huge chunk out of the biggest requirements on my target Prestige tree. It's worked reasonably well, particularly now that I understand better how to make all that happen.

    After Luoyang burned, I decided to try an experiment. I moved to Chengdu and applied to join Liu Yan's forces, who had properly taken on his quiet Bashu holdings as historically expected. However, the second I joined, a bunch of hilarious things happened. First, we got a series of notices that a bunch of Alliances were ending. That proved my suspicions about the hubgox from my previous campaign; historical mode scripts Alliances between key forces that it doesn't want to have attacking each other. Other forces were happy to go to war -- the Gongsuns were going at it despite historical inaccuracy because, I suspect, it didn't really matter in terms of any future events happening.

    However, a player being in a force, even as an underling, immediately terminates any such scripted relationships. It also apparently triggers the force leader to immediately switch to engaging in the most aggressive AI scripts possible, because as soon as I joined, Liu Yan began expanding in every direction. He jumped from 3 cities to 7, and that's including with me (the War Minister) telling him "No" to two requests about expansion.

    That went precise as disastrous as you might expect. While Zhang Lu's Hanzhong fell easily, this led to Liu Yan bordering Dong Zhuo. The loss of Luoyang did nothing to reduce the power of his force; he still had Lu Bu at this point, and Changan was still quite developed compared to everything around it (and Liu Yan didn't seem to care at all about the relative lack of training and development of his cities so long as there was capacity to expand and conquer around him). Without that scripted alliance in play, Dong Zhuo immediately invaded and ran over everything.

    One interesting thing I noticed was that Liu Yan was captured and killed fairly early, with Liu Zhang taking over. The very next annual council, Zhang ordered the realm to focus 100% on developing Culture (whereas every council under Yan was about either taking cities or annihilating neighboring forces). I have two good explanations for this, but I'm not sure which it is:

    One, Yan is aggressive by nature, which suits him in the early part of the scenario where he's leading Liu Bei's volunteer forces against the Yellow Turbans. He's scripted to only take one city to get his historical Bashu holdings after that, but if you turn off those limiters (such as by joining his force or simply disabling historical mode), it'll re-enable his hyper-aggressive initial nature.

    Or two, it's just generic AI behavior, and Zhang went with a super conservative plan because Dong Zhuo's armies were obliterating us. The AI was responding to the invasion by choosing a policy that would prevent any governors from invading, and a Culture focus might allow some cities to access new defensive technologies before they get attacked. This seems a bit dubious to me, because it's still a much better plan to train troops than develop culture if you're being attacked. But the AI isn't necessarily coded to play to win, and playtests might have revealed that AI that responds to attacks by training becomes annoying to defeat (and maybe every city gets hyper-trained by the end of the game?).

    To test this, I'm going to go back to my save and continue to play as a Lone Wolf until Liu Yan dies of natural causes (this should have the added benefit of Dong Zhuo's assassination firing, taking Lu Bu far away from Bashu and leaving a weakend Li Jue in Changan as the only threat). With luck, Zhang will continue a modest internal focus, giving me the opportunity to help develop the cities and then launch a revolt before any border cities get conquered and AI scripts start messing up.

    I'm used to this series having wonky events where only a couple will fire early on before ahistorical AI behavior causes everything to go haywire, with the game then moving on to standard AI interactions. This entry is pretty unique in how heavily scripted everything is in historical mode. I've never had to really worry about mastering the historical scripts in order to be able to achieve my goals, so this is novel gameplay at least. I'm not entirely sure if I like it or not yet. I think once I've had my fill of all the historical events, playing the game in pure fictional mode will be the only way forward (and probably filling the empty parts of China in early scenarios with some custom forces to prevent lucky start AIs from having so much free territory to become overnight behemoths with).

    I'll probably also play with the difficulty levels some. You can set AI expansionist tendencies separate from other options, so turning that down might keep them from being so gung-ho about taking over everything. I've never enjoyed playing these games as a hyper-expansionist (as it feels pretty dissonant to the game's setting and theme), and I hate having to do so in order to keep up with the AI.

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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    Fleur de AlysFleur de Alys Biohacker Registered User regular

    So I continued with my strategy of internal development while waiting on events to fire. Eventually Dong Zhuo was assassinated, replaced by Li Jue who had only a single city to his name (the powerful Changan with like 55 officers, but still). A bunch of other events fired, too -- Sun Jian was killed, Sun Ce took over and betrayed Yuan Shu after the latter declared himself emperor, Liu Bei took over for Tao Qian and gave refuge to Lu Bu, who then betrayed him and forced Liu Bei to run to Cao Cao (and was given the city of Qiao, I think it was, where he now resides).

    Some other things happened without events driving them. Yuan Shao has completely conquered the North, while Cao Cao has taken much of the Central Plains (the Zhang Xiu event did fire to move a few things around and kill some people, but Cao Cao attacked and defeated him without the help of events). Cao Cao then attacked and defeated Lu Bu. Sun Ce has taken almost all of the initial Wu territories. The map has shaped up pretty good for the big face-off of Cao Cao vs Yuan Shao. I wonder if an event will shift Liu Bei over to Yuan Shao (and Guan Yu to Cao Cao), or if that's not possible anymore? If it's not, I wonder how long we'll be stuck in an event hugbox between Shao, Cao, and Ce. Most of those hugboxes seem to have ended.

    Speaking of which, Ma Teng attacked and defeated Li Jue somehow, so that's a thing. So now Ma Teng is an actual force to be reckoned with, alongside Liu Biao and the aforementioned three. Shi Xie is still trodding along in the South doing his own thing, and Yuan Shu still has a single city.

    So what's the maniacal laughter about? Well, Liu Yan finally passed away, and Liu Zhang took over. He immediately went for pure domestic policies, so there really is a thing there where he's not interested in expansion like Yan was. That's really cool, actually.

    I resigned as War Minister, because that leaves you stuck in the council. Liu Zhang based himself in Hanzhong (we conquered Zhang Lu after Dong Zhuo's assassination), so I got myself transferred to Zitong, the city just north of Chengdu in the Bashu plains. Zitong was my previous homebase while waiting for Dong Zhuo to go down, and I developed the ever-loving shit out of it. It has very high military ratings compared to every other city in Liu Zhang's territory. And Liu Zhang decided to make me its Governor.

    And then I promptly started a revolt.

    It didn't start quite as well as I'd hoped. A number of officers traditionally loyal to Liu (such as Yan Yan) declined to join, and two of my sisters were too high-ranking for me to have as Comrades at that point, so I couldn't pull them in either. But I still have a set of very capable officers and the best troops around, so outnumbered 2-1 I still utterly decimated Zhang's initial invasion (he's quite upset at me).

    Now's the tricky part. I have to maneuver my forces very carefully so my single city doesn't get taken while I'm going on the offensive. The key to this will be the pair of Gates that sit on both the north and south sides of Zitong. If I can take them, then hold them until their defense ratings recover, I'll have enough time to ping-pong between aggressive armies, swatting them back to their home cities and creating openings to take neighboring cities like Chengdu. Once I have just two cities, I expect I'll be able to go on a conquest spree.

    Of course I still have to be really careful this time. I don't want to end up bordering Liu Biao or Ma Teng before I have a chance to recover, consolidate, and train up my forces. Too many of these cities still have terrible troop training, so I'll need a few years to correct that.

    Man, this game has so many cool little stories that emerge from it, too. For instance, while Yan was still alive, we decided to launch attacks against Li Jue. We had no real chance because of differences in troop training, but we tried quite hard anyway. My character would charge madly at him because of the whole Arch-nemesis thing, which inevitably resulted in our defeat. But in the final skirmish, Ou Xing, who had been a close friend and comrade of mine for pretty much the entire game, perished in battle. My character's thirst for vengeance led to the death of another close confidant, and I actually found myself caring about this event happening. It occurred right as Yan died and I resigned from my post, so the whole thing had the appearance of bitter self-blame and regret.

    Not that any of that stopped me from declaring Huangfu Song, Xing's slayer, my new Arch-nemesis, of course...

    Triptycho: A card-and-dice tabletop indie RPG currently in development and playtesting
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