Age of Wonders 4 Dev Diary #13 – Diplomacy
Welcome to another Age of Wonders 4 Dev Journal! My name is Thom (not to be confused with Tom or Thomas), I’m a gameplay programmer at Triumph studios and primarily responsible for the Diplomacy systems and related AI.
Today I will take you through some of the changes and additions we’ve made to the Diplomacy systems. There is a lot to go through as we had many objectives when working on the diplomacy system for AoW4:
Improving the overall experience of how players interact with each other.
Increased player agency while still focusing on how AI players can manage difficulty and pressure in a more proactive manner.
Clearer AI behavior and proper foreshadowing of actions and shifts in the AIs attitude.
Greater variety in gameplay and the role of personalities.
We’ll start off the journal by talking about the trading system, which is at the heart of your negotiations and dealings with the other rulers in the realm. Throughout the series we’ve featured Diplomacy in various forms, always trying to improve upon the last iteration, and we hope that the new system is no exception.
With Planetfall we introduced free form trading where you can haggle with AI players to try and achieve specified trade deals, sometimes at a great profit too. The only downside was that you’d have to go back and forth with AI players to broker a deal, which did not always work out since there was no way of knowing which deal would work for the AI beforehand. For AoW4 we have reworked this system entirely, focussing on clarity and providing a more straightforward experience.
When entering the trade screen, players will always be presented with trade options that the AI player will actually consider or would consider if the certain conditions are met. Each trade option can have various conditions, which are shown in the tooltips, when these are met the AI player will always want to make that trade, though they may ask for something in return. Clicking a trade option leads to the close deal screen where the AI will present one or more offers or requests in order to make the deal work, sometimes they will not ask for anything in return if they think the deal is fair. Selecting any of their proposed options will round up the deal. You may sometimes also propose the deal as a gift to the other ruler, which grants a relations bonus. While this takes away the haggling, it offers a much simpler and faster way of making successful trade deals with the AI.
Trading with other human players will still have the free form approach where you can specify the trade items and amounts exactly to your liking.
Treaties and Diplomatic States
For my leader I picked a heavily Diplomacy focused build by going High Culture and also picking Devotees of Good and the Chosen Unitors traits. This gives me permanent good Alignment points which in turn makes dealing with other good aligned rulers easier. As it so happens, the other ruler also has a diplomatic Personality, but we’ll get back to that later.
We have revised the flow of Diplomacy for AoW4, treaties (both diplomatic as well as resources) are permanent and certain diplomatic states as well as treaties depend on you having formed specific agreements with another ruler. Diplomatic treaties are now also shared, so opening borders means both rulers will do so.
The most basic treaty is the Wizard’s Bond, which starts off your diplomatic relations with the other ruler and unlocks the path to better treaties. The other ruler will have to like you first before they will agree to any treaty, hence our alignment boost comes in quite handy here! This also tells the AI that you are now open for conversation and allows them to send you various messages, without it they will mostly leave you be.
Of course you can still break your treaties and pacts later, but it will impact your relations!
Here is a quick overview of everything you can trade:
Diplomatic States (Defensive Pact, Alliance)
Treaties (Wizard’s Bond, Open Borders, Province-Claims Pact, Teleporter Pact, Shared Vision)
Resources (Gold, Mana and Magic Materials)
Contact Information of other Rulers
Equipment for Heroes
Captured Heroes in your Prison or Crypt
Cities and Provinces
Gifts, because good relations are forged with gold!
In order to achieve the ultimate relations goal in diplomacy, an alliance, you’ll have to get a Wizard’s Bond and a Defensive Pact first, which may take some time and bribing gifts, but it’s always worth having another ally on your side when trying to achieve victory. Take heed though, having a defensive pact or alliance will trigger an automatic call to war when a member of the alliance is attacked, so choose your friends wisely! Befriending a Warlord may therefore not always be the best idea, especially if you want to remain on their good side, sometimes the diplomatic approach is to keep a healthy distance. Which brings us to our next topic: Grievances.
Grievances and Wars
Grievances are the fuel for war and you may recognise them as Casus Belli in Planetfall, some of them have even made their way into AoW4 while we have also added many new ones. Grievances are for example triggered by trespassing, ignoring province claims and breaking treaties. Not only do these diminish your relations with other rulers, they are also used to generate War Justification.
War justification is what you use when trying to declare war and it is very important to have enough of it because without any justification, your relations with other rulers and free cities will only worsen as well as your imperium income when you declare war. The biggest change compared to Planetfall is that now your opponents' grievances also do matter as they are subtracted from your own grievances in order to determine your war justification.
Due to my rivalry, my grievances are boosted by +40%!
It’s important to gather grievances if you intend on waging war and to prevent your opponent from getting any grievances on you, but sometimes it cannot be helped. Especially when there’s that valuable province that you just have to have, but it’s right near the other ruler’s borders. Luckily you can still pay the other ruler in those cases to look the other way and forget the grievance, you may even sell your own grievances, but watch out as there is a limit to how much the AI will want to forget at a given time. If you are aiming for good alignment, you may also forgive a grievance, this will not yield you any gold but it gives an alignment bonus.
Settling grievances allows you to sell or forgive them, you can also buy off your opponents grievances.
Another way of gaining grievances is through a Call to War, when you are being called into a war by your ally they will share the grievances they used to declare their war with you, which allows you to (hopefully) declare a justified war yourself. Even if your ally declared an unjustified war, you will always get some grievance points to use.
Finally, another important change to waging wars is the role of vassals. Both vassal cities as well as vassalized rulers will now always automatically be drawn into the wars of their overlord and only exit the war when their overlord resolves it. Vassals can still independently make good relations with others but cannot declare wars or have wars declared on them, these interactions always have to pass through their overlord.
However, diplomacy is not just about wars, it’s about managing relations and so we arrive at Pronouncements. The pronouncements are a collection of diplomatic interactions which do not require mutual interaction between two rulers, but instead allow you to make a public statement.
These include the newly added declarations, which allow you to declare a player as your Friend or Rival. This will influence the value of newly gained grievances and it will also slowly add a modifier on your relation, which increases every turn to quite a significant modifier. It does cost upkeep to maintain a declaration, but the benefits are worth the costs.
A friendship can add up to 300 relation points and can go even higher, up to 400, if both parties declare their friendship and share multiple treaties. While a rivalry can lower the relation by -300 points and if left unchecked can cause the relation to spiral to war. Friendships lower the value of grievances gained while rivalries increase the value of grievances. AI players will also make use of these declarations, so try to stay on their good side if you can!
You can also fabricate a grievance if you are planning for war but need a little push or you can denounce a ruler for certain grievances, telling other rulers that they are untrustworthy.
Finally, this is also where you can make a call to war and try to include other rulers into your wars. They may also do the same and as mentioned before, having a higher diplomatic state will also automatically trigger a call to war under specific circumstances. A call to war always requires an answer within 3 turns and may even break your diplomatic state if declined.
AI and Personalities
A big part of Diplomacy is the AI, which for AoW4 we have completely revised. For Planetfall we tried to combat AI passivity by introducing a planning system that would give the AI relation goals for each other ruler which they would try to achieve. However, that meant that the AI was very rigid in where you could take your relations with them, with patches and updates we luckily remedied the situation. So for AoW4 we decided to take out this system and try a different approach where your relation value with a Player is leading for how they will behave and tried to focus a lot on player agency. This means that based on how you maintain your relations with an AI player, they will either want to be your ally or enemy.
In order to manage relations, the AI uses the trading system in the same manner as the player and they rely on the trade requirements, which we mentioned earlier in the journal, to determine whether they want/can make a certain trade or not. This means that the same rules that are exposed to you are also applied to how the AI will act on their own when making decisions. An example of this is when you want to create a Wizard’s Bond, if the relation is not good enough, the tooltip will tell you so, but it will also tell you the exact relation value you must reach before the AI will consider the deal. The trade requirements as well as value of a trade option can be modified by the AI player’s Personality.
Yaka will not consider the trade until we have at least a relations value of -100 or higher.
Because just relying on interactions to change the relation value would make the AI too passive, we have introduced several other factors which also have an impact on the relation value and eventually the AI’s behavior. One of those systems is the threat level or what we call the pressure system. At any given time the AI will evaluate all other rulers in the realm and calculate a pressure value for them, this value depends on many factors and effectively determines how well a (AI) player is doing. It looks at things like your relations, armies, cities, income, and many more factors. Things like the AIs personality, difficulty level and game phase also hook into this.
We compare the calculated value with a strive value that the AI thinks you should have and the AI concludes one of seven different threat levels from this. Which means they are either threatened because you are doing very well or they ease up because there’s already enough pressure on you. The threat level is expressed as a relation modifier, where being threatened means you receive a negative relations modifier and being at ease gives a positive relations modifier.
Ham Binger feels threatened by us because we have a substantial empire and several alliances, even though they would like to have an ally of their own.
Next we have built a new version of the Personalities system, which also came out for Planetfall alongside the Invasions eggspansion. Personalities will impact the AI’s behavior both on a strategic- as well as a diplomatic level by hooking into many systems and behaviors. As such they will for example influence how the AI will evolve their cities and empire, the armies they build and the tomes they research. Personalities also hook into diplomacy through trading, pronouncements and also offer you ways to influence the relation through personality preferences; each personality gives an AI ruler 2 things they like other rulers to do and 2 things they will dislike, for example they like it if you make alliances but hate it if you break treaties.
Based on these preferences you can try and influence your relations with an AI player by achieving the things they like and avoiding the things they hate, with 19 different personalities it may not be possible to keep all rulers happy however!
Furthermore we’ve restructured the personalities into 6 different archetypes, with multiple variants on each archetype. The variants determine the specific preferences, but only the 6 archetypes influence strategic and diplomatic behavior. The specific personality an AI player will have depends on their leader’s alignment and affinities at the start of the game and also determine how they will continue to develop these. The archetypes themselves do not hook into a specific affinity as we tried to make a balanced system, but the variants do. Here are the archetypes that we feature:
A wardriven personality that favors evil alignment, conquest and expansion.
A diplomatic personality that favors good alignment, alliances, treaties and loyalty.
An isolated personality that favors building their empire defensively and is less inclined to deal with other rulers, which makes trading more expensive.
A personality that favors research and the use of magic, they also like making treaties and try to avoid unjustified wars.
An economically focused personality that likes to trade, but strives for a better deal, trading is more expensive but time requirements may be reduced.
A research focused personality that likes to gain vassals and prefers smaller alliances over big coalitions.
These are just a few of the personalities in AoW4.
Finally, we’ve also introduced declarations of friendship and rivalry, which were explained in the pronouncements section. The AI will also make use of these declarations to indicate their intent for relations. They will start making declarations quite soon after meeting them, if they can afford the upkeep, so how you greet them does make an important difference. Over time the AI may still reconsider their declarations, so, with some effort, you may be able to have them reconsider their rivalry should things not exactly go your way from the get go.
While the AI does influence the relation value, this does not have to decide the outcome of the relationship as you can mitigate a high threat level with for example a declaration of friendship, by sending gifts or trying to achieve their personality preferences.
As you may remember from Planetfall, the AI will talk to you from time to time and they will have messages that they send in response to what is happening in the realm or to foreshadow their intent for the relationship. So keep a good eye on what they are saying! To help you out here, whenever a message has gameplay effects, it will always be accompanied by info text that is shown underneath the message to help explain the meaning of the message.
Also a shout out to our amazing narrative team who have not only written a lot of campaigns, lore and story events, but have also supplied diplomacy with a great database of messages for the AI to use!
With the messages we have, the AI is capable of responding to a great deal of gameplay scenarios as well as having variations on these messages based on personalities. At the same time, we’ve also made a lot of effort to make sure the AI does not overwhelm the player with messages by adding cooldowns and filters on when certain messages and interactions are allowed. An example of this is the wizard’s bond which is also the first treaty you can achieve with another ruler, without it the AI will only send you important messages such as them disapproving of an action or wanting to declare war, but with the wizard’s bond a whole new range of messages opens up.
Some of the things in diplomacy will probably still be familiar if you’ve played Planetfall, other things are completely new but there isn’t a single system that we haven’t touched or updated in one way or another and we hope it is all for the better of course! We’ve learned a lot from making Planetfall and we strive to always keep on improving, so we hope that this is our best version of Diplomacy in the Age of Wonders series yet!
That concludes the diplomacy dev journal, thank you so much for reading! I hope the information overload wasn’t too much and that you enjoyed reading up on all the changes we’ve been making. With only a few weeks till the launch of Age of Wonders 4 we hope you are just as excited as we are!