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The Underbelly: a rich political/government system

I have started following the game recently and consuming as much information about it as I can and it just seems amazing. I love a lot of the design ideas and philosophies and I really hope it accomplishes everything it wants to. One part of the game that is a little less fleshed out in terms of available details is the government system. I really think that given how ambitious the dev team is, it could become a very involved and complex part of this living world. However, due to the lack of information, I have some concerns (that may be unwarranted) and some thoughts and hopes about how it could be. So if you bear with me on this long article, I hope you can agree with me that this could be an incredibly involved part of the game that could impact and interact with everything else (PvE, PvP, economy etc) in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

Summary: Here I propose a soft adversarial system that interacts with the government to empower the impact of the political system while simultaneously keeping it in check: the underbelly. The underbelly is the criminal underground where those who disagree with their government on how their node should develop congregate, plan and attempt acts of civil disobedience. It is a soft adversarial system because both the underbelly and government want the best for their node and ultimately want to outcompete neighboring nodes. However, they are also continuously antagonizing each other to push different agendas while trying to maximize personal profit along the way. Importantly, it will make all players, not just those in government, feel like they can both experience and interact with the government system. It also provides a whole new dimension of choices and social interactions with their own risks and rewards with (I hope) a justifiably small development cost.

  • Creating a politics system where the politicians feel powerful and make node changing decisions without other players in the node feeling disenfranchised
  • Each citizen (and only citizens) can choose to support or undermine the elected officials through legal or illegal activities respectively (kind of like D&D chaotic-neutral-lawful)
  • Illegal activities occur in a place called underbelly which is outside of the node proper but close-by; operates like a tavern and has a notice board where players post illegal contracts (from selectable choices based on current political initiatives in place by elected officials)
  • Legal activities are essentially contracts put up by political officials that will usually be aimed at counter acting the illegal contracts put up; being lawful will have it's own rewards and perks
  • The cool aspect is that within the underbelly, you use an alias and can therefore lead a double life (an in-game name that you start off with and a criminal nick name). You will need to take measures to keep these identities separate (if you wish) as some consequences may result from not doing so
  • Allows for cool mechanics like...
    a. Smuggling caravans- may be banned items from trade by political officials or may be because no trade agreement exists between the two nodes
    b. Assassination- will shorten the term of political officials by a set amount; can only happen in city hall
  • Government officials need to allocate the limited number of guards they have to avoid being undermined, ask lawful citizens to help, or cut deals with underbelly criminals to have a successful and long reign

Holy crap this is long, but it sounds interesting... what should I read? Short answer: Section 3
Long answer: Section 1 mostly outlines things in the wiki, if you are following the game, you can probably skip this. I would recommend reading over section 2 before section 3. Section 3 is the real meat of the idea, if you read only 1 section, this would be it! Section 4 is short and really that informative, just some thoughts about the technical implementation side. Rest is self-explanatory
  • 0. Precursor
  • 1. My understanding
  • 2. Concerns and fears
  • 3. The idea: Underbelly
  • 4. Implementation/caveats/tuning
  • 5. Final thoughts
  • 6. Glossary

0. Precursor
Just skip this section unless you read the whole thing and want to comment on this thread.

0.1 What is this article?
I wrote this because how I envision the government system could interact with and add to enriching this already remarkable world is, I think, cool, innovative and fundamentally do-able without requiring anything technically absurd. I will try to provide example situations that may come up through the implementation of the envisioned system. Not because I want to share my day dreams of how it would work (okay maybe just a little), but to give examples of how this could add to and interact with PvP, PvE, crafting, exploration, node progression and any other macro systems of the game. 

0.2 Biases
Just to be frank about some of my preferences that may seep into some of my thoughts. I am most excited for the PvE, crafting and exploration aspect of the game. PvP doesn't appeal to me much, I am curious how much time I will end up committing to PvP. I plan to play the game a lot but can't commit crazy hours a day (for too many days in a row :tongue: )

0.3 My knowledge of the game
My knowledge stems from the readily accessible videos/content on the website, the wiki, and some opinion videos elsewhere on the internet but have not yet had a chance to get involved in the discord, Q&As, or the forums (my first post).

I want to make explicit that I understand everything is subject to change and that my (already limited) knowledge is of a very very early stage of the game. So if at any point during this it sounds like I don't know that, I apologize. Let me know and I can edit the wording if warranted!
1. My understanding
This is my understanding of the government system and what it is meant to accomplish. This understanding is the basis on which I come up with and propose the underbelly idea.

1.1 Participation
Citizens, however the status will be obtained, have the ability to take part in the government of a node starting at NL (node level) 3. Now, depending on how easily citizenship may be acquired there may be only a few individuals or lots of individuals that qualify (also depends on population of servers, nodes etc). Citizens can run for office through various means depending on the NI (node identity) which may result in their temporary appointment into the government. Other than the scientific NI, where officials are voted in, citizens don't otherwise influence who gets elected if they do not run themselves. This means that if you do not participate in the running, your impact may be very little on what the government does until their term is over (*from what we know). However, it has been mentioned that there will be mechanisms for internal conflict whereby the current leadership could be undermined. There is not really any more information on this so it is unclear if this is something citizens may participate in or just the elected officials. The underbelly described in part 3 is how I envision the internal conflict system may be (perpetually) carried out.

1.2 Role and consequences
I apologize if this is just essentially repeating the wiki info, but I wanted to make sure everyone is on the same page (also it should help date this article later). These will also be directly mapped when describing concerns and how the underbelly will augment the government system (i.e. points 2.2.1-2.2.5 and later 3.2.1-3.2.5 will concern the roles described here in 1.2.1-1.2.5). 

The government can do this by...:

1.2.1 Set foreign policy. Decide which nodes are friend and which are foe.
1.2.2 Enter into trade agreements and influence the local region's economy allowing entry of caravans from neighboring nodes.
1.2.3 Direct assets & determine what building projects the node will undertake. Buildings may lead to benefits for the node and its citizens in one domain or another. *I actually don't really know what directing assets means, perhaps use of tax money?
1.2.4 Taxation of the population, which will be used for buildings and other node development purposes (can ONLY be used for node development). Notably, it has been mentioned that paying taxes could be via the honor system (more on this in 3.2.4).
1.2.5 Determining defensive ability (again, unsure of what this may entail fully)

1.3 Unknown/undetermined
Things that are not really clear from what is known at the time of writing, some of these are discussed throughout.
  • 1.3.1 Can the number of elected politicians differ? Is it pre-set? Can it be changed?
  • 1.3.2 Is the NI pre-determined? Racially determined? Subject to change at any point? 
  • 1.3.3 Who gets to disrupt the current government? Citizens? Others in power?
  • 1.3.4 Does the NI determine/influence what buildings may be built?
  • 1.3.5 Does each node of NL3+ have it's own government, even if it falls under the zone of influence of a larger, higher level node?

2. Concerns and fears
Now, based on the very limited, super early stage, subject-to-change information above, I have some concerns about how the government system could feel "weak" or uninteresting relative to the rest of the game.

2.1 Balance
Ultimately, having a cool government system that makes each node really feel like it is player governed is essentially a balance between the citizens and the PO (political officials).  In other words, the PO must be able to make large scale, consequential decisions that really impacts the world (including PvP, economy etc) without citizens feeling like they are at their mercy and totally disenfranchised from the process post-election. This is a hard balancing act as the PO should in principle make any decision they want without the citizens feeling powerless.

2.1.1 Term limits should feel long enough to be impactful such that POs are able to build a legacy where the citizens revere or despise them. But citizens must still feel like their POs are held accountable and can't just run amok (or risk being removed from power). This, as mentioned, has been eluded to already by the devs and I will flesh out how I envision this could be done through a very impactful and rich system.

2.1.2 The entire electoral system, regardless of NI may feel inaccessible for the average player. Many players may feel like those who have more time to spend on the game will always outcompete them. Some predictable complaints:
  • Military node: they will have better gear to fight with higher time investment
  • Economic node: others have more flexibility and time to harvest, craft and sell things
  • Scientific node: I am not online enough or in a big enough guild for people to know me
  • Divine node: they have more time to complete the right quests.
If you can't get into government, you may feel like you are locked out of a part of the game because you simply cannot compete with others for such positions. Now this isn't necessary bad, it is totally ok for some people, you could argue even the majority, to not experience some things. The devs have even said they want the game to have too much for you to do. But even if players don't even care to compete for government (for whatever reason) if a likely candidate to win wants to make decisions for the node that the player(s) disagrees with, the only real option they have is to try and outcompete them in elections. The elections system can still be tweaked, like account-wide limits on terms per node, election time period where only money made, or quests completed in a small time window count (to even the playing field a bit). But all of these feel very artificial and do not serve any other purpose than try to balance the opportunity to take part in government. I could keep going but you get the idea.

2.1.3 I also am a bit worried that when all metropolises have been built and the focus of the game for many players shifts from growth to sieges, the government system will not have sufficient functionality to feel cool and may get stale. But I won't say more on this because there is just not enough information and I don't really have a greater point to make, just a thought.

2.2 Pitfalls and imbalance
As the PO make impactful changes, citizens within that node may disagree with their policies and decisions for a variety of reasons. I will give some examples of possible situations that may arise as either a disenfranchised citizen or POs who don't feel like their decisions are rewarding:

2.2.1 foreign policy: the lengthy war with the nearby coastal node has made gathering pearls you use for crafting very dangerous. Perhaps you need to hire some mercenaries to escort you.
2.2.2 trade agreements: the POs want to sign a trade agreement to acquire iron to finish building the barracks. However, some greedy merchants are threatening to leave as the increased supply of silk will flood the marker from this node and reduce profits dramatically. 
2.2.3 buildings: every new election cycle starts with the destruction of the barracks or temple  or whatever just to build what the current POs want, the citizens are upset at the lack of stability but not enough to rebel and the POs do not feel the choice is a big deal, every PO did it before
2.2.4 taxes: as citizens, other than to rebel and leave have no other actions to take when discontent and they have threatened to leave so many times the POs are calling their bluff. The only way to express discontent for the POs they feel they have left is to withhold taxes.
2.2.5 defense: the node is aware of an incoming assault, as a result taxes have been raised and more NPC guards have been hired

You may be thinking, some of these don't sound too bad... the last one isn't even a problem! They force players to make meaningful choices given the actions of the government! Well, of course yes this would already be cool but it could be way way better. Also note that these are all hypothetical problems/complaints based on assumptions of systems that are not even finalized. Just bear with me here, part 3.2 should make these points more meaningful, I will make a point somewhere in this novel I wrote, promise.

3. The idea: Underbelly
Ok buckle up and try to keep up. To re-state the problem space: how do we make the decisions of the POs very impactful and game changing without citizens feeling helpless and pulled along for the ride? Simply, allow them to disobey. Give players the option to go behind the government's back. The underbelly is a game-sanctioned way to disobey the powerful POs making all the decisions and allows for the organization of the resistance. Critically, this is a nuanced way for non POs to take part in the government system and influence local politics. Citizens can disobey on a broad scale from smuggling spices to a node where there is no trade agreement established, all the way to assassinations of an individual PO to shorten his/her term in power by a week (details on how this could work in 3.1.6 below). Of course, the consequences if caught could be dire, and importantly, actively trying to enforce and support the will of the lawfully elected will not go unrewarded either (you can kind of think of this as deciding where you fall on a D&D style lawful-neutral-chaotic meter). This allows POs to be extremely powerful as they will ultimately always be the ones making the node's decisions, while allowing everyone else to have some influence in a more graded and perpetual manner (unlike the government where you are either elected or not, in the underbelly you can have very little to quite a sizable impact on pushing POs to make decisions that takes into account the underbelly).

**Last attempt to convince you if I still haven't; optional reading. Instead of thinking this is an addition to the government system, you should think of it as being a part of it. Does this pitch help sell it to you?: [/start cinematic voice] The government system will have something for every player. Those heavily invested in the game with an aptitude to lead can compete for positions as POs. If selected, you will have profound power over your local politics and can truly change the world, redraw the map, leave a legacy. However, such power is reserved for only the ambitious few, (high end game content akin to the hardest raid) thus not everyone will experience it. But worry not, as a citizen you decide if the crown of the POs is made of dust and will crumble or if their word is truly absolute. As a citizen you can make decisions to follow or undermine your POs. If the government is making decisions you approve of, enrich your standing in the zone by accepting government sanctioned quests aimed at stopping the criminals undermining the power of the crown. If the government is making decisions you or your pocket dislike, perhaps you can find some allies or lackeys in the underbelly to send the POs a message. Ultimately, the citizens through their engagement as part of the underbelly or lawful actions decide if the term of the POs goes smoothly or is constantly disrupted and hampered. [/end cinematic voice] End **

3.1 Design
One last thing before we dive into the meat: there are many ways that such a soft-adversarial system that I described so far could be pulled off. I have a vision of how I think it should be done and that vision will require certain game mechanics to exist. I will highlight the main one with an asterisk (*). I will discuss why I think these mechanic are easy to develop or already exists and would only need to be re-purposed later in section 4. Ok enough setup, let me tell you what I've been imagining.

3.1.1 The underbelly is a physical location like a tavern. Like a tavern, there will be a notice board where contracts will be posted by players and tables where group finding mechanics and conversations can be had. Importantly, it is accessible by all citizens at all times, meaning you can always participate, in a variable capacity, in the political system of your node even without being elected. It would come into existence once NL3 is reached. Essentially, the existence of the city hall, POs and the underbelly will occur around the same time (remember to think about this holistically as the political system, not the government system and the underbelly system). It's actual identity will be determined by the location of the node, for example it could be a mountain bandit camp or pirate's cove. As the NL increases, the underbelly will also become more pronounced and may even move, like forming a small tunnel network in the mountain or moving entirely to the sewers of the newly formed metropolis. It will be filled with shady NPCs that will be thematically determined by the NI (more on this in 3.1.4). 

(*)3.1.2 The underbelly is a unique zone where name tags are disabled and your handle becomes a permanently selected (for that character) underbelly alias (UA). Your UA will not be placed on top of your head like your non-UA name, it will just be used to identify you as having put up or completed contracts successfully (failure to complete a contract will not put your UA on the contract, but will influence your reputation- more on this in 3.1.4). Otherwise, the appearance of your character will remain the same, so perhaps treat the underbelly like casual Friday and change your cosmetics, swap out your gear, use illusion magic/potion, or at the very least leave your server-unique legendary sword at home (there may be a locker in the underbelly; discussed in 4.2.2). It is a way for the player base to build a reputation in anonymity (if they choose). Nobody you meet in the underbelly can whisper you or send you a friend invite etc using your UA, if you want that sort of interaction with somebody, you need to reveal to them your non-UA name. You may however leave local underbelly NPCs written notes (mail) for players addressed to their UA for the next time they visit. This also places importance on actually physically meeting in the underbelly making it another social hub and source for finding things to do (like taverns and city notice boards). Also note that initiating combat within the underbelly will likely lead to a swift death (which reveals your identity) and make you unwelcome to that underbelly in the future (you are burning that bridge). Trying to kill someone in the underbelly for the purpose of revealing their identity could still be possible but will be an incredibly difficult task that will require several people to commit to this highly consequential act where all assassins will likely die, even if the target is wearing no armor (which might occur to protect their identity as mentioned above). Or perhaps combat is disabled here, would need some testing.
The UA will allow for very interesting and complicated social interactions and RP between players and will allow you to further decide how you interact with the political system. Perhaps most importantly, it will protect citizens from retaliatory actions by the government and their sympathizers. Here are some examples:
  • Those who take part in player-killing contracts will functionally forfeit their UA as outside of the underbelly, players will easily know who killed them and a quick trip to the underbelly itself will reveal the UA of the killer as it will be printed on the completed contract (but not necessarily that striaghtforward, more on this in 3.1.3).
  • Players may try to intimidate others by claiming to be notorious underbelly figures (what does it mean to be powerful in the underbelly? please read 3.1.4) or actually prove it through some contract actions in the underbelly (contracts explained in 3.1.3)
  • Players with resources can hamper and pressure POs by putting up contracts (example given in end of 3.1.3). The more resources the player can devote to this, the more influential they can potentially be. However, such citizens are also likely to have vast resources by being of importance to the node (perhaps a guild leader or local alchemist). Revealing their identity would expose them to punishment by the government and their sympathizers (more on consequences in 3.1.7)
  • Similarly, those trying to make a profit or take part in contesting the agenda of POs will benefit from anonymity. Note that consequences scale with the failed action 
  • POs will definitely want knowledge of contracts so that they can try to counter them and be aware of disruptive contracts ahead of time. Having a mole with a high criminal reputation (more on reputation in 3.1.4) that frequents the underbelly may be useful as without fast travel, an assassination could be planned and executed before you get a chance to visit the underbelly!
I hope you can all appreciate the possibilities that this sliver of limited anonymity provides. Is it too complex? No, you can read why not in section 4. You will see that the value of the UA will resonate throughout the rest of this section.

3.1.3 The underbelly will have a "quest board" where citizens can post quests of illegal nature (much like player owned taverns) and also where they can accept them and turn them in. Tables, again much like a tavern, will allow for group-finding mechanics for those who are trying to accept (and split the reward of) a contract. Note that you can try to accomplish e.g. a caravan hit without having a contract for it. Contracts provide extra reward, an opportunity to group up with others (including someone with inside knowledge on a particular caravan's delivery schedule, location and contents) and avoids multiple groups trying to hit the same caravan (hence increasing success rate). Contracts can have reputation requirements (explained in 3.1.4) to view. 
  • Quest-like: as you'd expect, get X done for Y reward. Things like hiring mercenaries, assassinations etc. A note on assassinations: you can put up kill target X but that becomes a hard sell that may need a high reward because you are asking a player to forfeit their UA effectively as explained in 3.1.2. But there will be contracts that are a bit less damning like kill any players mining the mithral vein for the next week. In this case multiple assassins may participate (rewarded by head count and thus may end early depending on resources provided by contractor) and their UAs will be revealed when the contract is over, making it harder for players to know which assassin has which UA (you will still know the assassin's non UA name, but not be able to match it to their UA). This should also help enhance small scale PvP play while simultaneously make its occurrence more predictable (for those who wish to participate or avoid it).
  • Congregation: a special type of quest without a set reward. This may be put up because a citizen feels strongly about wanted to do something but does not have the funds to necessarily hire others to do it. Instead they will appeal to the common interest of fellow citizens. I expect that individuals who put these types of missions up, would participate in them personally as well. These can also be used for more abstract or discrete reward missions (e.g. guild invitation, or non-UA identity) but no reward is enforced. The contract is still committed to and failure will have consequences on reputation.
  • Quorum: for those with commitment issues or those with great interest in keeping anonymity or element of surprise. This type of posting is not really a mission, but will be some vague survey of interest or discontent. Players can sign their UA on this to express support (noncommittal). The person who put up the quorum will be able to see the UAs but others will only see numbers of signatures. This individual can then decide to put up a contract where those who signed will be notified of by an NPC in the underbelly the next time they visit it (like mail). For example, you want to plan an assassination without tipping off POs so you put up a quorum asking "who is discontented by X policy?". After a few days you check and see 12 citizens have signed, maybe too few for something like this but then you notice one of the names is a notorious assassin which gives you the confidence to put up the hit. The next time any of the 12 citizens enter the underbelly, they will be approached by an NPC who tells them there is a new posting they may be interested in which will be tagged by a star or something on the board, others will see it as any other contract.
  • Announcement: this would not be a contract, but something a player can post for some cost under their UA
  • A reminder that failure to complete a contract will not put your UA on the contract but may lose you some reputation
Quests will not be free-form, as in you will select a contract and fill in the details. This means that depending on the current political events, different contracts will be available to put up. For example the contract mentioned above: "kill any players mining the mithril vein for the next week"  would only be available if there is construction order for a building by the POs that requires mithril contribution to complete. Or "raid a caravan from X city [or to X city]" may only be available if there is a trade agreement in place.

3.1.4 Your reputation and notoriety within the underbelly is both abstract and a real metric. The real metric part of it will be capped by most players that take part in the system quickly and will mostly tie into the tutorial/introduction of players to the underbelly (more on implementation in section 4). Reputation however, can also be lost if you fail contracts, so a bad criminal (or one that simply tips off others to prevent contract success) will lose some reputation and may be locked out of some contracts that have reputation requirements to view. Reputation can be regained through completion of contracts. The abstract part is up to you, will you be an opportunistic lackey who is just out to make a buck or a crime boss where players do not want to cross, who has to take extraordinary measures to conceal their identity from the many who harbor them grudges?
Outside of this, there are also underbelly factions determined by the NI. If you are in a scientific node, you may find in the underbelly a casino for gambling (like taverns but without tax; won't really compete with taverns as it would be citizens only), fighting pit and religious cult reflecting the unselected NI paths, in this case economic, military and divine respectively. Their function will be very small however. Outside of the aesthetic and ambience that they enhance, if you take part in their respective establishments (e.g. become a champion of the fighting pits which will use your UA of course), you will earn redeemable credits from them. These credits will essentially be a bonus to the reward of any contract you want to put up sponsored by the respective faction. This is meant to allow those who focus on the aspects of the game that doesn't relate to their node's NI (those who are not represented by the POs perhaps) to have a bit more resources to try and thwart the policies of the POs if they wish. The factions may also serve an end-game function (more on this possibility in 3.1.9).

3.1.5 The NI itself has been presented as a cool distinguishing mechanic between nodes and I love the idea. Although there is not any information that I found on what determines the NI of a node. It does however, feel like a very impactful decision that the POs should be able to make. Once a node has reached NL3, the node should have some default NI perhaps decided by the dominant race (this would add a bit more flavor to race starting areas). But at some point, close to and before NL4, the POs of that period should have the decision to choose a permanent NI (unless the node is destroyed or levels down) as they see fit. The reason it should be before NL4 is that nodes that are locked out of NL4 should not uniformly have the same NI (which may occur depending on the mechanism that the default NI is selected). It should also not be immediately available for final selection as the underbelly and POs should be able to have some interaction with one another before such an important decision is made.
When NL3 is achieved (when the political system kicks in to begin with), there should be certain check mark(s) that need to be ticked off before the NI can be decided. Within my vision, this would be the building of the city hall before which point some open "city square" would operate as the political landmark (easier to assassinate- more on this in 3.1.6). This would justify making PO terms shorter until the city hall is built at which point the government gains stability and the NI is selected and locked in. This delay between reaching NL3 and the building of city hall is a sensitive time where politics are important (they determine the super impactful NI after all!) greatly incentivizing player engagement in the newly unlocked political system. This period will be filled with conflict between the PO(s) and the underbelly as PO(s) and lawful citizens try to finish the city hall within the current term to select the NI while those who don't agree with the current PO(s) stated (or hidden) intent will try to slow down/sabotage the construction of the city hall and push for different PO(s) to be elected to make this decision. This should also immediately make the "soft" part of the soft-adversarial clear. If the underbelly disrupts this too much, it could delay the upgrade to NL4 which could ultimately lock out your node from be able to do so. This means that a savvy leader must try to appease the underbelly through lies or charisma and citizens decide to participate in the underbelly or not depending on how they gauge the ticking clock of being out-competed vs the potential personal gain of pushing for different PO(s). This makes every citizen impactful right from the start of the political system's inception. I think this system would work best with a single PO until the city hall is built, allowing for more POs to be elected (if the game even supports a multi-PO per node approach). This should result in the organic modulation of node growth rate that may vary in different parts of the world depending on local political strife.

3.1.6 The city hall and city square are not just buildings, but where policy decisions are made (I hope) while the PO players are operating in their formal PO function. This makes them an appropriate place and time for political assassinations. If a player is a PO, it would be too disruptive for them to be able to be assassinated at any point. They can still be killed by other players (perhaps causing more corruption to off-set their popularity induced deaths) but without political consequences. While they operate in the well guarded city hall or square however, an assassination would result in some % or pre-determined loss of term time. This perhaps makes the city hall and square an important place to hang around to help defend your PO or to set up for an assassination (make sure to accept the contract if there is one, either for reward or gaining more help from others). Note that these structures will only be open for POs to make decisions during a part of the day (at least 12 hours a day) and while inside these structures, POs will have a massive buff to defense (and perhaps offense) and many guards will be present. If a multi-PO system is adopted, you could then have instances near the end of a term where the number of POs making decisions is much lower than what was started with. This can lead to game of thrones-esque style politics of POs putting up assassinations on other POs and interesting relationships between POs and underbelly mob bosses (or guild) where favors can be done for each other like making profitable policy decisions or supporting assassinations of rivals. Although I will note that a multi PO system will also make each PO feel less powerful of course (the number is a fine balance itself, I have no good opinions for this other than 1 PO pre NI selection).

3.1.7 Failing an assassination attempt should be a more consequential event than being caught smuggling spices as I'm sure most would agree. The punishments for disobeying may be pre-determined (e.g. by NL or NI) or available for POs to select as a policy depending on the crimes like player killing, assassination attempts, raiding caravans etc from a list of predetermined options. The most severe punishments set by POs for assassination may be to have citizenship frozen for a time based on the % of damage contributed up to some threshold (e.g. 30%) at which point they lose their citizenship for a whole election cycle (citizens can always opt out of citizenship, even if theirs is frozen). This would make mob-assassinations based on discontent less risky as more people may participate while a greed motivated assassination with even a large reward may only attract a few players and therefore be very high risk. In contrast, the most severe consequence of raiding a caravan may be loss of certificates for freehold add-ons which would then have to be re-acquired.
Government sanctioned consequences only apply to players who are killed in combat involving guard NPCs (meaning if you assassinate and get out cleanly, and are later killed by bounty hunters due to your corruption you will not be fined). This means that the strength of guards, and their placement by the POs is an important decision point. The number of guards POs have access to will be determined both passively by the NL & citizen count and actively by purchase through tax collected from citizens. As NL increases, POs will have access to higher tier guards thus making the relative ratios of guards of different strengths yet another important decision to juggle. Guards may be assigned to city hall/square, protecting trade routes, and even simple geographic postings. Guards protecting trade routes will serve a dual function: they will determine the default strength of guard escorts for legal caravans and will have a % chance to lead an NPC raid on smuggling caravans. This means that a smuggling caravan from one node to the next may have up to 2 NPC combat sequences (one from each node). Geographically placed guards may be placed to for example deter resource collection in your node by citizens of enemy nodes, or to protect your own citizens from underbelly contracts asking to assassinate them as they try to mine mithral needed for a new building. POs need to manage their limited guards dynamically, responding to shifting needs and threats. Spreading yourself too thin leads to ineffective protection on all fronts but being up to date with the politics of your enemies and the on goings of the underbelly may allow you to effectively manage this. This again plays into the soft adversarial system where the activity of the underbelly may jeopardize or exploit guard placement. Final note: I foresee the guard system to be difficult to balance and require some testing.

3.1.8 Being a lawful citizen who does not constantly antagonize the POs will have its own benefits. Being in good standing with the government will earn you loyalty. Although being the opposite of the criminal reputation in concept (as discussed in 3.1.4), it operates independently meaning gaining criminal reputation will not lower loyalty by default or vise versa. Loyalty level reflects actions such as paying taxes, bounty hunting, or completion of government sanctioned quests (just like underbelly ones, but the POs will put them up and select their rewards). The main difference in how loyalty operates from the criminal reputation, is that unlike criminal reputation which is reduced upon failure to complete contracts, the loyalty meter decreases either if you are killed by NPC guards or when you choose to trade in loyalty for reward. Rewards could include discounts on certificates for freehold add-ons, purchasing blueprints, or enhancing guard strength that accompanies your legal trade caravans.
As the contracts in the underbelly may concern POs who only have limited guard resources, they could put up contracts on all non-underbelly notice boards. The reward for such contracts will always have some loyalty reward that may be selected by POs but may also contain a bonus monetary reward using city funds. Government sanctioned quests/contracts are accessible by non-citizens who will gain coin instead of loyalty (at some pre-determined conversion rate). Some contracts could include, bonus bounty contracts for those with corruption in particular geographic zones (e.g. mithral mines), protecting legal caravans or assaulting smuggling ones. Note that players may only have accepted any number of underbelly OR PO sanctioned quests, never both.
Lastly, at max loyalty, citizens can use a part of their loyalty to inform the government of a suspicion of illegal activities by another player. This would be selected through a list of citizens and will have some cooldown. The suspected player will receive a letter of investigation informing them of their predicament which will have 2 main consequences. First, they will not be able to not pay taxes by choice without consequences (essentially forced to pay taxes if they weren't). Secondly and most importantly, if the "suspected" player is killed by guards for the period of the investigation (should be a day or two), they will experience an enhanced punishment for their crime. This should emphasize the risk of taking part in the underbelly without concealing identity (more on this in 4.2.2).

3.1.9 The end game in terms of politics should also be interesting to take part in. We should not just rely on the destruction of nodes that will restart the growth process or change the growth cap of neighboring nodes to make up the late game political system. Instead, one thing that can be done is to allow players, through heavy participation in their local underbelly factions (mentioned in 3.1.4) to earn the right to post contracts (not accept or complete) in a node they are not citizens of. Thematically, your reputation in the casino of your node has allowed you to make connections that you can call upon in another node (you should choose 1 other node, which also has a casino) to influence their politics as well. This would mean players/guilds with lots of resources could start to influence other nodes to expand their trade empire or destabilize a node in preparation for invasion without giving up their own citizenship. Alternatively, the system would force players to make alt characters if they wanted to achieve this.

This wraps up the system I had envisioned. Perhaps it is not the best way to implement the system I have in mind but its fundamental concepts are: 
  1. Powerful POs that need to make important but difficult choices based on the player actions in their node and those in surrounding nodes
  2. Players that feel like they may have some impact and involvement in the political system without winning elections
  3. Opportunity for complex, organic social interactions allowing for multiplicatively more choices on how players can accomplish their goals within other game systems
3.2 Depth and Interaction
The proposed system is fundamentally asymmetric in nature. Within this system the POs are powerful but with coordination and sufficient numbers, citizens can influence the POs. This system can be built in many ways but without sufficient complexity and opportunity for interaction, the decisions of POs may not feel rewarding and citizens may feel restricted by decisions they cannot influence. Now I will refer back to examples given in 2.1.2 and how this system may enhance and enrich each one.

3.2.1 As a crafter requiring pearls found in the neighboring warring node you have two choices. You could hire mercenaries to accompany and protect you while you try to collect such pearls in enemy territory, or you could travel to another non-warring node and find a seller who could smuggle you a shipment of them. Given the war, guards are not likely to bother such an operation in force, but you do not really know if anyone would even have or be willing to smuggle you a shipment. You thus choose to travel with an escort to gather some yourself. While there, you meet another player from a third non-warring node doing the same and he offers to sell you a large stockpile he has been collecting, prices are high due to war and the scarcity of pearls. You find this an interesting stroke of luck, arrange for a meeting in the new friend's underbelly to talk and turn to your mercenaries and ask if they also do caravan escorts.
3.2.2 As POs, you should have a more nuanced control over trade and your node's economy. You should be able to ban the import and export of individual resources or types of resources to cater to your citizens (or your underbelly allies). This system would be viable because citizens can still undermine your rule and export/import what they want at higher risk/reward. If a group of merchants are unhappy with a trade agreement details, they could strike some sort of deal with the POs to tweak the policy or they could stop paying their taxes as a form of protest and use that gold in the underbelly to incentivize raids on trade caravans.
3.2.3 The buildings that you are capable of constructing should depend on your node. Furthermore, it would be interesting to have a more nuanced system as to assigning NPCs to such buildings. E.g. a barracks may have a religious general assigned to it providing combat bonus to all citizens as well as some smaller faith bonus. This would allow POs to make easier and lower impact decisions of assigning officials to government buildings to fit current needs or they could try to make the higher impact decision of demolishing the barracks in favor of building a temple. However, the building of the temple may be hotly contest by citizens (for various reasons, maybe some want a bazar) who may dramatically slow down its construction through the underbelly. The POs need to juggle how impactful their decisions are with the time they have left in office as any projects that are still incomplete when their term ends may be scrapped, with little to no consequences, by the next cycle of POs (or they could continue it if they wish).
3.2.4 The POs may negotiate with their citizens (e.g. through announcements on government notice boards) and ask for higher taxes in order to hire more guards to accompany caravans that seem to be targeted in higher frequencies. Citizens may trust the POs and oblige, or they may take their hard earned gold down to the underbelly to put up different contracts.
3.2.5 As rumors of an incoming siege spread, POs ask for more taxes from citizens to hire more guards. The underbelly has also taken notice and players within the bandit camp have taken down contracts and implore others not to accept remaining ones. Several big players in the underbelly have posted in the underbelly notice board that they will not place any contracts on caravan hits until this conflict is resolved allowing for less guards to be committed to trade routes by POs.

This system facilitates a living world where everyone can have some impact, small or large, on their node in the capacity of policy and government. Furthermore, the policy and government system allow for further choices and interactions to accomplish goals in all other aspects of the game such as the economy, PvP, crafting etc.

4. Implementation/caveats/tuning
Is this system complicated? Yes, most systems with depth are. Is it TOO complicated? No not at all. Is it hard to develop? Relative to the utility and enhancement it has for the game? I hope not.

4.1 Complexity
Every system has some sort of learning curve. The game has many systems and mechanics that will be brand new for most/all players. Figuring out how castle sieges work with siege weapons will have a learning curve but you don't have to teach players where and when to deploy them, they decide and make for interesting game play themselves. Similarly, the politics system will have a learning curve of the UA and contracts, but how they use them to play the game and interact with everyone else is up to them and won't need teaching. 
Given how the government system as a whole is introduced at NL3 onwards, players will have some time to be familiarized with the other systems of the game and thus hopefully won't be overwhelmed by too many new things. Even so, I think the political system should have a quest-line that will allow for smooth entry for players. The quest chain could go something like this...
One of the quest givers in NL2 at the end of some quests (regardless of the quest) could say something ominous like "I feel like things are already changing; I do not want this new Vera to be ruled by a few, it belongs to the people". Once NL3 is achieved, they will provide some quest for you to meet them in the underbelly. Once there, they will introduce you to the different mechanics like telling you that an alias would serve you well here at which point you get to pick your UA. Then they cast an illusion spell on you to change your looks and tell you about the importance of keeping your identity hidden. Then they take you to the bar and tell you about the underbelly mail system. Then they would take you to the table and show you how to talk to an underbelly NPC which gives you an easy quest completing which would level your criminal reputation (could be called notoriety or something). Then you would be given a different type of contract, until you have more or less seen all types of contracts and even a quest where you are allowed to put up an example contract that will be "completed by an NPC". At the end of this tutorial quest chain you should understand the basic mechanics and can interact with it as you wish. A similar approach can be used for the "loyalty" mechanics, which is much more intuitive. Future characters would not need to undergo this as the same NPC will simply say they "can tell you are no stranger to doing things under the table" and simple give you a quest with the location of the underbelly. 

4.1.1 This is a bit tangential but how other systems are set up will of course be important for this system. Particularly, I think the resource system should make your home (node of citizenship) important in what is available to you. The geographical location of your node (and its biomes) should decide what resources can spawn. This would make trade agreements and standing with nodes that contain different biomes very important.

4.2 Development

4.2.1 Perhaps the most fundamental component of the whole system is the anonymity afforded by the UA. Now hiding name tags or different UI components is nothing new to games, the screenshot mode allows for such things. But to have a secondary handle as a character is not trivial. I do however think it can be encoded like a title or guild name that is simply not subject to change once selected. Since illegal contracts are only accessible in the underbelly, and your UA is essentially only written on contracts you post or complete, the UA could ultimately be completely limited to the geographical location of the underbelly making implementation much easier. The only time your real character ID is used instead of UA while inside the underbelly is if you receive whispers, guild, or party chat while inside the underbelly. So chat systems outside of local chat could be encoded to never use the UA handle. To avoid confusion of players with the same UA as another player's character name, they could be mutually exclusive, or there should be a symbol in front of all UAs to clearly identify them as UAs (like a little mask symbol or something).
But if your UA is your local chat handle, would it not be a trivial process to follow a player into the underbelly and just see what their UA is? Well there could be some solutions to this, but I do not have a clearly superior one in mind, if you have ideas let me know in the comments. I will propose one option here: a changing room at the underbelly entrance where you enter, have an opportunity to adjust your appearance, and then enter the real underbelly zone (where name tags are off and UA is used). This could also act as the hard boundary for the underbelly and functionally be a loading screen if such a thing is needed. NPCs would incrementally be leaving and entering this change room area as well (also with no name tags) and players can choose when they leave the change-room.

4.2.2 The importance of concealing one's appearance and the different ways of doing so could really be fleshed out. Crafting could have a direct impact on this through dyes, potions that change appearance, or magical items that do so. This allows players to choose how much they invest in concealing themselves. Earlier in 3.1.2 I suggested there could be lockers in the underbelly to store a disguise but I really would prefer there not to be. That opinion is contingent on the depth of mechanics in game for changing one's appearance. If there is sufficient depth, a player can decide to invest a bit of coin in buying a potion with a few uses that takes up one inventory slot, or decide to be cheap and bring several alternate pieces of gear to change into in order to alter appearances (or no concealment at all). Those who invest heavily, or have a large incentive to protect their identity may invest in buying potions and magical items from crafters to do so (economic and social utility; customer anonymity appreciated). Higher quality potions may chance the race or sex of the character too.

4.3 Balance
Beyond development costs, there will be balance costs for the implementation of such a system. I will list some things that I foresee requiring significant balancing.

4.3.1 The way players gain citizenship is of great importance to this system. I think this system would benefit most from easy of citizenship acquisition as it highly rewards investment by citizens. Overall, exploring the world will be very appealing to most players and the game seems to incentivize exploration quite well and I think it should not steer away from this. However, I do think that the citizenship status should then be meaningful, what makes your home node more special to you than any other node? Property is a good answer, but so is freedom. Recall that non-citizens cannot participate in a node's underbelly meaning that they cannot break the law and are therefore restricted by the rules the node's POs have decided on. At home you are free to do as you'd like (and potentially be punished for it but still). This system overall will reward those who invest time close to home to develop their node. Thus being able to decide to move somewhere else in the world should be easy in practice but a hard decision to make as your investment and social connections in your current home node will not come with you.

4.3.2 The number of POs in the political system is also an important number to pin down. It could be variable depending on CI or CL or it could be uniform. In general, there is not much to say about this that isn't obvious. The larger the number of POs, the more complex politics may occur and the more individuals may participate in the the political system. However this comes at the cost of political effectiveness and impact. Effectiveness is already going to be slowed down by the underbelly, you do not necessarily want too many POs squabbling amongst each other as well. In terms of impact, the more people who can make decisions, the less impactful the decisions of each individual becomes. Do POs democratically vote on decisions? Are decisions like tax amount taken as the average of all PO's preference? Does each PO get to select one project or a certain number of policies to sponsor?
One cool system I can think of would be to have each node have only 1 PO but if a node falls under the zone of influence of a larger node, the PO of the smaller node shares control with the POs of all larger nodes that contain it under their zone of influence. This would make a metropolis a 1 PO node but that PO will have tons and tons of responsibility (or they can simply choose not to get involved in some of the zones under their influence and delegate that to medium nodes' POs). Just a thought.

4.3.3 The CI seems to be a very cool part of each node that can help differentiate them. I do hope the system supports different building types or variations to be accessible by each CI but through the appointment of NPCs within each building, allow for them to be more similar. For example a science node may make a "potions development lab" instead of a "barracks" which would functionally be very similar but allow for the appointing of head scientists vs generals that will determine what bonuses are provided to the node and its citizens.

4.3.4 The rate at which nodes progress through NLs is also an important factor that needs balancing. This needs to take into account political term times to allow for interesting interaction between the underbelly and POs that is meaningful. Again, not much that needs to be said about this that isn't obvious or intuitive.

4.4 Caveats
The only real caveat of this system that I can think of is that it may spread the node population a bit thin, especially since there is no fast travel. Depending on the player limits on servers and their localization within the game world (how many people are in each node on average, especially lower level ones when there are metropolises around). There may already be ~dead nodes but to add more points of interest/player congregation like the city hall and underbelly may spread players even more thin and making finding groups & organically running into others less frequent. Note that although the underbelly and city hall are mostly interesting for citizens, non citizens could still try to congregate there for some purposes (For example: you could visit another city's underbelly to see if someone is willing to smuggle you some resource).

5. Final thoughts
This was quite an adventure to think about and write. I think even some parts of the underbelly on their own would be cool additions to the game. If you read this whole thing, awesome! Let me know what you think or just bump it. If you have some comment I recommend going back to section 0 and giving it a quick read, it covers my potential biases and disclaimers :P.

6. Glossary
NI- node identity
NL- node level
PO- political officials
UA- underbelly alias

Original Version- Sept23 2018
Added much needed TL;DR- Sept 24 2018


  • Cool story bro, I read the first part, untill you said it was long, scrolled down to see how long and thought...well I think you know the implication.

    Next time you take a shit, time it. That's the average amount of time most people will dedicate to reading and responding to something.

    It looks like you had a great idea and spent a lot of time preparing it and presenting it. I seriously applaud your effort. Good luck!

  • Cool story bro, I read the first part, untill you said it was long, scrolled down to see how long and thought...well I think you know the implication.

    Next time you take a shit, time it. That's the average amount of time most people will dedicate to reading and responding to something.

    It looks like you had a great idea and spent a lot of time preparing it and presenting it. I seriously applaud your effort. Good luck!

    Lmao fair enough, here is TL;DR

    • Creating a politics system where the politicians feel powerful and make node changing decisions without other players in the node feeling disenfranchised
    • Each citizen (and only citizens) can choose to support or undermine the elected officials through legal or illegal activities respectively (kind of like D&D chaotic-neutral-lawful)
    • Illegal activities occur in a place called underbelly which is outside of the node proper but close-by; operates like a tavern and has a notice board where players post illegal contracts (from selectable choices based on current political initiatives in place by elected officials)
    • Legal activities are essentially contracts put up by political officials that will usually be aimed at counter acting the illegal contracts put up; being lawful will have it's own rewards and perks
    • The cool aspect is that within the underbelly, you use an alias and can therefore lead a double life (an in-game name that you start off with and a criminal nick name). You will need to take measures to keep these identities separate (if you wish) as some consequences may result from not doing so
    • Allows for cool mechanics like...
      a. Smuggling caravans- may be banned items from trade by political officials or may be because no trade agreement exists between the two nodes
      b. Assassination- will shorten the term of political officials by a set amount; can only happen in city hall
    • Government officials need to allocate the limited number of guards they have to avoid being undermined, ask lawful citizens to help, or cut deals with underbelly criminals to have a successful and long reign

    How does that sound? :) If good I'll add this TL;DR to the main article. 
    Thanks for commenting, cheers.
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