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Dev Diary #23 – Fronts and Generals

2021-11-11

Dev Diary #23 – Fronts and GeneralsHello and welcome! Today we will dig into the core mechanics of land warfare, including Fronts, Generals, Battalions, Mobilization, and more. But let’s take a moment first to recall the pillars of warfare in Victoria 3 from last week’s diary, which should be considered prerequisite reading to this one.

  • War is a Continuation of Diplomacy
  • War is Strategic
  • War is Costly
  • Preparation is Key
  • Navies Matter
  • War Changes

Before we get started I want to point out that a few of the mechanics I will be mentioning below are currently still under implementation in the current build. While development diary screenshots should never be taken as fully representative of the final product, this is especially true in this case. In some cases images will be artistic mockups and visual targets, and in other cases very rough in-game screenshots that will be revised before release. The reason for this is simply because, as we have stressed previously in these dev diaries, Victoria 3 is a game about economics, politics, and diplomacy first and foremost. War is a very important supporting system to all those three which tie them together, but we needed to make sure those three aspects were mature enough before we put the final touches on the military system. Furthermore, being a drastic divergence from how warfare works in all other Paradox games, these systems have required a lot of time in the oven to feel as fully baked as the others. Once we are closer to release we’ll make sure to update you on any revisions, and release more finalized in-game screenshots!

First I want to present the concept of Fronts. In Victoria 3, rather than manually moving armies around the map, you assign troops (via Generals, as we will see later) to the border provinces where two combatants clash. All combat takes place on these Fronts, where a victorious outcome consists of moving the Front into your enemy’s territory while preventing incursions into your own.

Fronts are created automatically as soon as two countries begin to oppose each other in a Diplomatic Play, and consist of all provinces along the border of control between those two countries. Therefore a Front always has one country on either side, but it is possible for Generals from several countries to be assigned to the same Front.

Let’s take a look at a screenshot from the current build of the game:

An early draft view of the Texas Utah Front. This Front belongs to the Texan Revolutionary War of 1835, which is in full swing on the game’s start date. Two Texan Generals are assigned to this Front, Samuel Houston with an Advance Order and William Travis with a Defense Order. On Mexico’s side, José de Romay is advancing with 10 Battalions. The four stars on either side indicates relative average fighting skill compared to the world’s best – here Mexico and Texas are tied with 40 Offense and 35 Defense each. From Mexico’s perspective this Front has a slight advantage at the moment and indeed one battle on this Front has already been won by them.

The Texas Utah Front

As mentioned at the top, these visuals – and all other images in this diary – are far from complete! We have many parameters left to expose, more UI layout to do, and more visual effects to add before release. Everything you are seeing today is only to give you a better idea of the mechanics, but is in heavy revision as we speak and will look different on release. As such it is not to be taken as representative of what you will see in the final product.

The health and status of your Fronts is a primary indicator of how well the war is going for you. Do you have more troops on the Front than your enemy does? That’s pretty good. Have you advanced it far into enemy territory? Great. Are your soldiers there demoralized and dying in droves from attrition? Double-plus ungood.

In a large end-game conflict you might have hundreds of thousands – possibly even millions – of soldiers in active service, which is a lot to keep track of. The number of active Fronts, however, is likely to be much more manageable. The design philosophy here is the same as with the economic Pop model. Our aim is to make the game playable and well-paced, without requiring frequent pausing, on every scale while retaining the detail and integrity of the Pop simulation. For warfare, the scale ranges from a small border skirmish between minor nations in single-player to a massive multiplayer world war involving every Great Power. Using the Front system we can account for every individual Serviceman and Officer in meticulous detail while giving the player a high-level strategic interface to monitor and manipulate. Much like with the economic interface of Buildings or the political interface of Interest Groups, from this Front view you can drill down through your Generals all the way to the individual Pops that actually do the fighting if you want to.

After a particularly punishing battle the Texan Barracks are desperately trying to recruit replacements to send to the front.

The Texan Barracks

Generals are characters who command Servicemen and Officers into battle on Fronts. Every country will start the game with one or a few Generals – many of them straight out of the history books – and can recruit more as needed.

Generals are recruited from Strategic Regions, and gain command of as many locally available troops in that region that their Command Limit allows. Command Limit is determined by their Rank, which ranges from 1-star to 5-star. If several Generals are headquartered in the same Strategic Region, the troops are split up between them proportional to their Command Limit as well. Military operations can be complex to manage, and to model this every General costs a certain amount of Bureaucracy to maintain. You can promote Generals freely, but while higher-ranking Generals can effectively command more troops they also cost more Bureaucracy.

Like other characters, such as Heads of States and Interest Group Leaders, Generals have a set of Traits that determine their abilities and weaknesses. Admirals, their naval counterparts, work the same way. These Traits determine everything about how the characters function and what bonuses and penalties they confer onto their troops, their Front, and the battles they participate in.

All characters have a Personality Trait, with different effects depending on what role they fill. For example, a Cruel General might cause more deaths among enemy casualties, leaving fewer enemy Pops to recover through battlefield medicine or return home as Dependents, while a Charismatic General might keep their troops’ Morale high even when supplies run short.

Characters can also gain Skill Traits which are unique to their role. Generals may develop skills like Woodland Terrain Expert that increases their troops’ efficiency when fighting in Forest or Jungle, or Engineer that increases their troops’ Defense. Freshly recruited Generals start with one of these but can gain more as they age and gain experience. Many Skill traits have several tiers as well, so Generals that remain active across many campaigns may deepen their abilities over time.

Characters may also gain Conditions due to events or simply the passage of time. These often affect the character’s health, but might also influence their popularity or ability to carry out their basic duties. Shellshocked is a classic example of a Condition your General might gain.

Like all characters, Generals and Admirals are also aligned with an Interest Group – which is often, but not always, the Armed Forces. For Heads of States and Interest Group Leaders the impact of this political allegiance is obvious, but why (you may ask) would this matter for Generals and Admirals?

In addition to industrialization and revolutions, the 19th Century was also known for its revolving door between military and political office. Often given assignments far from the capital with very limited communications, Generals and Admirals were given access to enormous man- and firepower and sent off with little possibility of oversight to see to the nation’s best interests. This autonomy not only granted them considerable geopolitical power while in the field, but also made them extremely popular figures once returning home from a successful campaign. As such, in Victoria 3 your decisions on who to recruit, promote, and retire – which should ideally be based on meritocratic concerns – sometimes have to be tempered also by concerns for internal power balance and stability due to the impact Generals can have on the country’s Interest Groups.

First off, the character contributes directly to their Interest Group’s Political Strength, which as we know determines their Clout. The amount provided is dependent on their rank, so granting a promotion to a promising young General will also increase the influence their Interest Group wields.

This fellow (whose full name I refuse to write out) has a Direct personality, prefers to command troops in Open Terrain, and is an expert Surveyor of the battlefield. He’s also become Wounded, probably as a result of some recent skirmish. He supports the Industrialists, and as a Rank III General, his allegiance is quite important to them.

General Charles-Marie-Napoleon De Beaufort D'hautpol

Second, if a General is becoming a little too big for their boots – or perhaps crippled by adverse Conditions, like that 79-year old fossil who just won’t leave active service despite senility and various ailments – and you want to force them into retirement so someone else can take command of their troops, their Interest Group’s Approval will be impacted. Understandably so, since you just robbed them of some political power!

Third, and most important, if an Interest Group becomes revolutionary – which will be the subject of another dev diary – their Generals and Admirals will take up against you. If you’ve put all your eggs in the basket of some farmer’s boy who turned out to be a strategic genius and you suffer an agrarian uprising, you may end up fighting a rebellion against that same brilliant commander using fresh recruits still wet behind the ears.

Commanders can also be the focal points of special events, caused either of their own volition or by a situation you have put them in. Your decisions in these events may end up affecting your country in any number of ways.

A special event

Both Generals and Admirals can be given Orders which they are obliged to try to carry out. We will go over Admiral Orders next week. The Orders you can give Generals are quite straightforward:

Stand By: the General returns home from their current Front, dispersing their troops into their home region’s Garrison forces to slow down any enemy incursions 

Advance Front: the General gathers their troops, moves to the target Front, and tries to advance it by launching attacks at the enemy

Defend Front: like Advance Front except the General never advances, instead focusing only on intercepting and repelling enemy forces

These orders may end up executed in different ways depending on the General’s Traits, resulting in different troop compositions and battle conditions during the operations. For example, a Reckless General may provide his Battalions with increased Offense during advances, but fewer of his casualties taken will recover after the battle. Further, his recklessness may lead to making a Risky Maneuver during a battle, which could prove a brilliant or catastrophic move. If you want to play it safer you could assign a Cautious but well-supplied General to a frontline, even though that may be less prestigious.

Generals charged with advancing a Front will favor marching towards and conquering states marked as war goals, but their route there may be more or less circuitous depending on how the war is progressing and possibly other factors such as the local terrain. Other such designated priority targets, which the player could set themselves to alter the flow of battle, is a feature we’re looking into adding to represent strategies and events such as General Sherman’s march to the sea. This is not currently in the game but is something we think would add an interesting dimension to the strategic gameplay, so something like this is likely to make its way in sooner or later!

Fronts targeted to Advance or Defend can also be a Front belonging to a co-belligerent, as long as you can reach it by land or sea. For example, if Prussia supports Finland in a war of independence against Russia, they could send one or two Generals to advance their own Front against Russia and another to help defend the Finnish-Russian Front, ensuring Finland can stay in the war for as long as possible while simultaneously striking at Russia’s own war support. To do so it needs to send its troops helping Finland across the Baltic, which require naval support we will learn more about next week.

Generals cannot be given Orders unless they are Mobilizing. In peacetime, all Generals will be demobilized, doing whatever it is 19th Century Generals do in peacetime (probably drink copious amounts of wine, have sordid affairs, and plot against their governments) while their troops are on standby doing occasional drills to keep readiness up. As soon as a Diplomatic Play starts, and for as long as the country is at war after that, players have the option to Mobilize any and all of their Generals, which will increase the consumption of military buildings (guns, ammo, artillery, etc) and start the process of getting that General’s troops ready for frontline action. The speed by which troops are readied is dependent on the Infrastructure in their local state, so high-infrastructure states can mobilize many more troops quickly while low-infrastructure, rural states might take much longer to gather and organize a lot of manpower.

This means when you choose to start mobilizing, and how many Generals and Battalions you choose to mobilize, will matter a lot to your initial success in the war – and as everyone knows, the first few battles could well prove decisive if the other party is taken by surprise. The magnitude of mobilization becomes immediately visible to the other participants in a Diplomatic Play as soon as the decision is taken. Choosing to mobilize big and early in a Diplomatic Play tells the other participants two things: one, you’re serious, and two, you’re hedging your bets that this won’t end peacefully. This in turn can trigger a cascade of mobilizations, and before you know it, a peaceful solution is no longer on the table. Choosing to hold off on mobilization until late means you save precious money and lives until it’s needed, but may cost you the war if that’s what it comes down to.

Mobilized Generals cannot be demobilized until the war is over. Once you’ve committed your troops to the war, they expect to be in the field and well-supplied until a peace is signed. If getting what you want out of a war takes a long time, your expenses may eventually begin to exceed the value of the potential prize.

In-progress artistic mockup of an Army overview, listing all your Generals with shortcut actions. In this case only General Long-Name has been mobilized (activated), preparing his men to go to the front at the expense of increased goods consumption and attrition.

Artistic mockup of an Army overviewYour land army is composed of Battalions, which are groups of 1000 Workforce with Servicemen or Officer Professions. Like all other Pops these work in Buildings, in this case either Barracks or Conscription Centers. The difference between these are that Barracks are constructed manually and house the country’s standing army, which are considered permanent troops, while Conscription Centers are activated as-needed during a Diplomatic Play or War and recruit civilians into temporary military service. In addition Barracks have a wider selection of Production Methods to choose from, particularly high-tech late-game Production Methods. How your army is divided between professional and conscripted soldiers depends on your Army Model Law, which we will cover in more detail in a few weeks.

The Production Methods in these two buildings work like other Production Methods do: they employ Pops of certain Professions, and consume goods to provide a set of effects. In this case they employ Servicemen and Officers in proportions depending on your organization style, consume a number of military goods, and in return provide Battalions with different combat statistics such as Offense (indicating how useful they are during an advance) and Defense (indicating how useful they are when defending against an advance).

Since military buildings work according to the same logic as other buildings, such as factories and plantations, all core mechanics such as Market Access, Goods Shortages, Qualifications, etcetera apply to them in exactly the same way. If one of your Barracks’ Battalions are supported by Armored Divisions but you cannot supply it with enough Tanks, recruitment will slow down to painful levels and both Offense and Defense will suffer. If you don’t have enough qualifying Officers the number of Battalions the building can actually create will be throttled. Just because you have researched a new type of artillery piece or a more efficient way of organizing your army doesn’t mean you’ll be ready to modernize straight away, and if your local infrastructure suffers the acquisition cost for the requisite goods could reach astronomical levels.

Upgrades to Production Methods in military buildings take considerable time to take effect. While any goods consumption changes happen immediately, improvements to combat effectiveness takes some time to realize. Keeping military spending low during peacetime by reverting your military to pre-Napoleonic warfare doctrines might be pleasant for your treasury but less great for both your war readiness and Prestige, the latter which is directly impacted both by how large and how advanced your army is.

In-progress artistic mockup of a Battalion/Garrison-focused list. Illustrations are selected for a collection of similar Battalions based on dominant Battalion culture (defined by the Pops in the military building) and tech level (defined by the Production Methods in use in the military building). Collections can be expanded to display the full list. From there the player can click through from a given Battalion to the military building supporting it.

Artistic mockup of a Battalion/Garrison-focused list.

All this leads us to Battles. Advancing Generals will eventually gather enough troops to launch an attack into one of the enemy-controlled provinces along the Front, which will be intercepted by defending troops and possibly an enemy General. In short, a battle then takes place over some number of days until one force has taken enough casualties and morale damage to retreat. We will go over in more detail how battles play out in a future diary, but suffice to say for now that a bunch of Battalions go in along with a number of different combat-related stats and conditions, some of them related to the General and their troops, others due to conditions like province terrain and chance. If the advancing side wins, they capture a number of provinces depending on how large their win was, what sort of technology they use, how dispersed or concentrated the enemy forces are across the region, and so on. If the defending side wins, they repel the advancers and will likely be able to launch their counter-attack at a nice advantage.

An item of note here is that just because one General might command 100 Battalions while the other side’s General might only command 20 does not mean every battle outcome on this Front is predetermined. A single Front can cover a large stretch of land and just because a General with 100 Battalions is “on a Front” does not mean they travel with 100,000 individuals in their encampment; those Battalions are considered to be spread out, simultaneously planning their next advance while intercepting enemy advances, and as such the force size each side in the battle can bring to bear may vary. Furthermore, Battalions under the command of other friendly Generals on the same Front may be temporarily borrowed for a certain battle, and even Battalions without mobilized Generals (considered part of the region’s Garrison) can be used to defend against incursions. However, Battalions not under the direct command of the General in charge of the battle do not gain the benefit of his Traits.

This variable sizing of battles, particularly when combined with mobilization costs, counteracts the otherwise dominant strategy of “doomstacking” and make wars feel more like a tug-of-war than a race. Each side can choose to either try to gain marginal advantage over the other on the cheap, or spare no expense to increase their chances for an expedient victory, with any position on this spectrum being a valid option in different situations.

We’ll get deeper into some of the combat statistics that go into resolving a battle in a few weeks when we explore military buildings in more detail, and we will talk more about how Battles play out and look on the map in a diary a little further down the line. We’re anxious to show them to you, but need to give these visuals a little more attention first! 

That’s land warfare in a nutshell. In the two upcoming dev diaries we will go over the major role that navies play in this system as well as the economic and human costs of war, which are closely interrelated. For now I want to close by saying that we appreciate your patience in waiting for details on warfare mechanics! The reasons for why we’ve chosen to diverge so far from the classic GSG military formula would be hard to grasp until you’ve seen how the different economic, political, and diplomatic systems function.

Next week we will talk more about warfare mechanics as we get into how your navy plays into all this. Until then!