So, I come up with ideas for new campaigns scenarios fairly often, yet more often when not I just don't find interesting gameplay to fill them with. As such I have this stack of notebook pages scribbled full with stuff that sounds somewhat cool in my head but that will never make it to a stage where I can see if it will ever be good.
This one actually came to me when Nyctaeus applied his talent to re-work some of the Ancients models. However there more I look at what Spoon and Axem are doing I find myself drawn to further away from this idea.
Also this is perhaps needlessly complicated and thematically "dark" - and I hope to set my sights towards more hopeful material in the future.
Anyway...739 - An Ancient-Shivan WarPart 1 - The Court of Knives
The story begin at a small border garrison of the Ancient Empire. At the edge of a small nebula a small flotilla of Ancient ship crewed by the client and subservient species of the Ancients, in following only referred to as "the Masters", fight a war of attrition against an "infestation" of self-replicating machines - a last ditch-effort by an previously vanquishes species to sour the victory for the Masters by forcing them to expend resources and time to continuously defend sections for new conquests.
The diverse assembly of non-Masters species that fight at this place are referred to as "the Nameless", as they have a significantly lower status bordering on non-personhood in the society of the Masters. This goes so far that individual Nameless, as the title implies, are not allowed to have any other official identifier other than those given to them directly by the Masters, which for the majority means a number and a designation for their place of birth/origin. Most Nameless despite this retain a rudimentary cultural identity for themselves and those like them, while also coming together through a shared fate.
The situation of the protagonist, a Nameless lieutenant with the simply designation 739, is radically changed by the arrival of a Master Admiral.
The Admiral seeks a personal champion for an upcoming power struggle among the Masters for the leadership position of Archon, which is a supreme commander for one of the Masters' migrating fleets of conquest. As the previous Archon is approaching the end of their natural life/fitness to command, they have called for all the officers under the command to compete for the right of succession in series of ritual combats, which are to demonstrate their ability to lead troops, develop strategies and overall to outsmart and outfight their competitors.
Normally this kind of combat is fought by a single Master Champion commanding Nameless squadrons on the behalf of their superiors each. Each round of the combat ends when the Champion falls in battle, and the remaining Nameless join the winning side as spoils of war/trophies/reinforcements. The Admiral however sees this as a wasteful practice, as it encourages both sides to just waste the lives of the Nameless in order to kill the Champion.
Likewise the Admiral expresses great sympathy with the 739 and the Nameless in general, as they are leading "honest lives unburdened by the politics and intrigues of the Masters". Especially the direction of the Nameless' lives (from the perspective of a Master) to be wholly focussed on the most pragmatic solutions possible, without the arrogance or bluster of "being a Master", is what the Admiral states to be find most admirable.
As 739 is a Nameless, they have no choice but to accompany the Admiral back to their conquest fleet and be their champion.
There, the fact that 739 is named as Champion causes a big controversy among the Master officers looking to compete for the Archon's position. However the Admiral makes a convincing case to the Archon that ultimately boils down to the argument that the contest itself is sufficient enough to test the merit of their Champion and that of the Admiral's opinions.
739 is ruled to be valid pick for Champion and the contest begins in earnest.
The Admiral has another trump card however: Having banked on the arrogance of her fellow competitors, they are willing to smuggle 739 into the Nameless of their adversaries to conduct sabotage of any kind. 739 is Nameless after all and among the Masters the comings and goings of the Nameless are beneath notice.
As such 739 is able to subvert the ability of several competitors to fight effectively and the Admiral quickly moves up the ranks, having the troops under her command bolstered by the Nameless that would have died in open combat.
With all their competitors defeated, the Admiral seizes the title of Archon.
Knowing that their approach to succession and their stratagems have cost them considerable prestige and turned their former competitors into enemies that cannot reveal their colours just yet, the new Archon begins to consolidate their power. The first step is to ensure the loyalty of the Nameless, so they can offer up any treacherous Master and that way pre-empt any upcoming leadership challenge.
739 as the victorious champion is offered a name and title in recognition of their accomplishments.Part 2 - Embers of Defiance
Time has passed since the Archon won their challenge for succession and 739 has remained their most trusted enforcer. However the shine of the initial cooperation has dulled as time goes on. Despite being in a trusted position, 739 remains excluded for key deliberations. And the realisation is dawning of them that their own elevation might just serve as distraction to ensure the loyalty of the Nameless - the promise of them being elevated as well if their service is just faithful enough.
Things begin slip into an even darker territory when the Archon's fleet is joined by another conquest fleet in transit to its next destination. The Masters of the New Fleet are even more opposed to 739's position and the Nameless of the New Fleet seem to be more fanatically devoted to their Masters than the ones in the Archon's Fleet.
Half-way through the journey, 739 is summoned before the Archon. As both fleet are taking on supplies and new Nameless conscripts, a troubling new phenomenon has appeared within the Nameless population: a cult-like movement that proposes the existence of a golden age before the Masters - fundamentally contradicting the Masters' narrative for the Nameless that conquest by the Masters equals the individual species of the Nameless "being uplifted and civilised" by the Masters.
739 is ordered to assemble a team and investigate the origins of "this fallacy" and deal with so it does not undermines the Archon’s command.
Given a cruiser and a small contingent of trusted veterans, 739 sets out to find the point of origin and it while it takes a while to get there, they manage to trace it back to an planet that is listed as uninhabitable in the Masters’ records.
Upon arriving at said planet, 739 and his crew discover that it is not like what the records said it would be. Instead of uninhabitable rock the planet is full of life and covered in ruins. Upon reaching orbit 739 is contacted by someone they didn’t expect here: 1327, another nameless from the same border outpost that 739 was recruited from.
1327 begins to explain that since the departure of 739, the Nameless of border outpost have fought several decisive battles against the machines, even penetrating one of the machines manufacturing centres. During that mission 1327 made a discovery that put them on a different path: the entire facility was covered in markings and iconography that they remembered from their time before being conscripted into the ranks of the Nameless. The creators of the machines and 1327 own ancestors must have had at least something in common, or more provactively might have been the same people.
In trying to reconcile this discovery with the official record provided by the Masters, 1327 happened upon more and more gaps in the official account. Finally realizing that planet they had been born on and would retire to, were not the home world of their kind. Instead their entire species had been resettled after being conquered, all evidence of their civilisation before the Masters’ attack had been purposefully erased to make them compliant, and now their relationship with the Masters had turned them into willing participants in their own domination.
Following that conclusion to their search 1327 set out to find the original home world of their kind and to reclaim what was lost for their species - because during their search, 1327 learned something else: the end of the Masters would be coming soon.
At this point it would be up to 739 to decide what to do next:
Is 1327 delusional and a danger to be eliminated? Or is the idea of liberation from the Masters worth preserving even if it based on “false assumptions”?
This decision then would be the starting point to colour Part 3…Part 3 – Masters and Destroyers
Upon completing the previous mission 739 and their crew re-join the Archon’s fleet just before it reaches its destination: a muster of the Masters’ conquest fleets.
There it is finally revealed what the Archon has kept from 739 before: Another conquest fleet has encountered an alien force that could not be defeated. Other fleet have already been dispatched but most met the same fate, some even retreated in shame rather than face “honourable defeat in death”.
Now the Archon’s Fleet along with many others are send to fight this new alien threat – which we know as the Shivans – and regain the holdings that were surrendered.
At first battles go in the Masters favour, as the Shivans’ capital ships tend to be outnumbered and outgunned by the Masters in every confrontation. However the Shivans’ shielded fighters and bombers tend to be more significant danger, costing the Masters ship after ship even though the initial engagement have been won.
Soon the tide of battle turns on the Masters and they are forced to give more ground. Which in turn deteriorates the chain of command as the assembled Archons begin to seek the blame for every defeat in each other, rather than accepting fundamental flaws in strategy and technological problems that have yet to be overcome.
739 and their Archon find themselves in especially tenuous position as the Archon’s previous decision become scrutinized and their leadership becomes increasingly challenged by the Masters under her command. In order to fight off rivals for their command, the Archon begins to eliminate her Master Officers and replace them with Nameless from the rank and file.
This does not nothing to solve the problem, as it only transfers the challenge to their command from internal to external – from their own officers to other Archons. On top of that it introduces a new, stronger competition for promotion into the ranks of the Nameless, eroding their cohesion as a fighting force.
When the Shivans then push the offensive and bring in the Lucifer to attack the Archon’s fleet, 739 is again faced with decision point:
Who actually deserves their loyalty and protection?
Should they fight it out with Archon, risking their lives for a Master in position they might not be able hold even if they survive?
Should they just gather up the Nameless and then leave the Masters to die on their own?
From here on out, everything would of course branch out:
- Staying with the Archon would mean cropping up her command as it dwindles around to nothing, yet the Archon would soon realize that something has been missing and, instead maintaining the downwards spiral of their command, begin the research that ultimately leads to the discovery that Shivan shields don’t work in subspace and the development of subspace tracking. Yet before it could be implemented as effective strategy, the Archon is forced into a final stand above the world that their research is based on. The battle, of course, is lost and the colony is destroyed – only to be re-discovered 8000 years later.
- Leaving the Archon for another Master Commander would mean a more stable military campaign going forward, however fighting the Shivans remains a losing prospect. And you do.
- Leaving the Archon and escaping with the Nameless would play differently, depending on your choice in Part 2:
-- If you let 1327 live you would find a ready-made sanctuary, however, as 1327 insist of sending out groups to liberate more Nameless, it would soon be discovered by the Masters and all would be made an example of to scare the rest of the Nameless into continuously fighting the Shivans.
-- If 1327 had been driven away or killed in Part 2, 739 and company would be hunted by both Masters and the Shivans – until the Masters are defeated and Shivans disperse (if you could survive that long that is).Gameplay
So before I dive into the issue list here is a bit of what the gameplay would have looked like:
For Part 1 is actually quite simple:
The competition to succeed the previous Archon is just a competition, so at least 4 tiers of enemy Champions is four different arenas. With the added twist that you would get a "preparation mission" before each one, in which you get to set up or stop some stratagem. I also considered adding an element of resource management by having you discover up to 6 possible "cards" for you to play across all 4 "matches", with an added unseen (but not un-telegraphed) stat that makes one card particularly effective and another one particularly ineffective against one the Champions. Another element of resource management would be the "winner takes the survivors as their reinforcements"-aspect, so while it might be safer to just defeat all enemies in a fight, going straight for the Champion might up your numbers for the rest of the competition.
For Part 2, the main hook would be that you are commanding a cruiser
and had to delegate all the task that require speed and precision to the AI wing mates. I also considered doing some experimental stuff with possibility of cruiser weapons and tactics, but that is all going into a different long-term project now - so excuse me if I keep that to myself. Objectives would mostly revolve around "finding stuff", so scanning other ships and going places. I was also thinking of working with the scale of cruiser a bit, i.e. having environmental hazards and obstacles, that the fighters can actually manoeuvre through or around, giving you or your enemies a bit of cover.
For Part 3, I really got nothing other than trying to make the "their cruisers/corvettes/destroyers are easily defeated but their fighters/bombers are not"-thing work, possibly again by having you command a cruiser or a corvette
, as that would offer the more satisfying gameplay at this scale. (also thanks to the fact that a number of the Ancients ships we have are on the Inferno-scale, see the Akrotiri
and the Androgeos
, it would not be that much of problem with a cruiser having nothing bigger than itself to interact with)The Issues
I think the first issue with the campaign outline is fairly obvious: The endings are all half-baked and "misshapen" to a degree. They do follow the internal logic of the campaign (at least in my head, I might have skipped a point or two a normal person would think of), but I can't bring myself to fully endorse all but one; which is the "survive until the end"-one. I know the scenario calls for a bleak set of endings, and I keeping with the canon set up in the margins of FS1's Ancients 3 and Ancients 4, that's what I come up with at this point.
I especially dislike where the first and third scenario are going, because it feels like varying degrees of edgy for edginess sake. These endings do follow logically from the rest of the set-up, i.e. the Archon being an "outside the box"-thinker and 1327 being, if not delusional, well-intentioned but ill-informed. But other than that they register to me as ... just wrong.
Some of that might be explained by the next the issue. Because the whole Master-Nameless, master-slave-dynamic is strictly speaking just in the story to allow the players to distance themselves from the results of the fighting between the Masters/Ancients and the Shivans. It is to give a new objective structure to the gameplay in which you can see e.g. an Akrotiri go up and be detached about it, because it is a ship of Masters and even if you are fighting with
them you are not fighting for
But when you use a dynamic like that, which is central to the problems facing actual people today - European colonialism did destroy quite a number of indigenous cultures in the name of "civilisation", with methods that have a lasting impact today - you owe it to yourself and those still affected to bring in a diverse set of voices, so you are not just "mining" someone else's tragedy for dubious effect. And I have to admit I don't have contacts that could give me an understanding I would considered sufficient (= beyond academic).
Perhaps, if I had I would have come up with better ending scenarios.
So, this is my Ancient-Shivan War-script that will never make it to a full campaign/set of campaigns. I hope it was an interesting read.