Charnel Mouse: Oh boy, it’s Dominions 3. This is probably the game I’ve played the most over the last few years, and there’s so much of it I still haven’t seen.
Dominions takes place in a large fantasy world, where the old god, the Pantokrator, has mysteriously disappeared. This brings the world back to where it was before They appeared: a world split by warring nations, each led by a Pretender trying to destroy all the others and achieve true godhood. Let’s just say this is not a game of permanent alliances.
The main thrill of it is the absurd levels of detail and content on offer, and fascinating narrative and thematic contexts that fire the imagination far beyond what is displayed by the dated graphics. It’s the same qualities that I imagine proper wargame fans love in overwhelmingly massive hex games like War in the East.
This is going to be a series covering one game, featuring myself and dreadfulpain, plus six nations played by the computer. We probably won’t be able to cover everything, but we’ll show as much as we can. I’ll try and space things out, and spare everyone from complete information overload.
The first thing to do is to choose our nation and Pretender. The latter in particular has a lot of options, as is appropriate for the character that represents you in the game world, so I’ll just go over the ones I’m using.
Dominions games can take place in three different Ages. Generally, earlier ages have more high-magic, mystical creatures, whereas late ages are marked by dwindling magical skills and most of the nations being overrun by fast-breeding humans, as well as a lot of the nations going horribly, horribly wrong.
This game is set in the Late Age, and I’m playing as Marignon, a feudal theocracy that split off from another faction, called Ermor, during the Middle Age. The reason for the split has a lot to do with Ermor starting to be cursed by undeath, and Marignon reacts to this in an extreme fashion, with Inquisitors and Witch Hunters leading mass purges.
dreadfulpain: The reason I suggested Late Age was that whenever I fought with Charnel Mouse in past games he would always have an advantage because he actually uses magic. I on the other hand have never mastered using battlefield magic and so chose Late Age as it is the least magical era. That being said, I always shoot myself in the foot because whenever I do play Late Age I tend to pick fairly magical races.
Jomon is based on Japan, and uses samurai and ninjas. Late Age Jomon is the era of humans after they have gotten rid of the goblin overlords. Based on Japan and its myths, it is a fairly cool race to play. I have always (like many westerners) liked Japanese culture (which I do feel bad about as I’m part Chinese) and as we are playing Late Age it was between Jomon or Bogarus, which was based on Russia (which I also like). Both have a lot of unique summons that I enjoy, however I went with Jomon because Rus, while fun and cool had, I felt, only one decent troop type and that was their knights. The problem is those knights are still fairly weak and die too easy last time I tried them. That and Jomon can get sea units if I am lucky.
CM: dread is a bit harsh on Bogarus, I think – only having one decent troop is true for a number of factions – but they are certainly more dependent on battlefield magic than dread would like. Being able to get good sea units can be handy, because getting a good presence underwater is usually slow and painful for factions that don’t naturally live there.
Army: They have a nice mix of troops of archers and heavy infantry. Their cavalry while not amazing is not to be sneered at, and their archers are fun because they are samurai so do not suffer from melee. And of course ninjas. In game terms they are assassins that have a poison range attack that gives them the chance to poison the enemy commander at the start of the fight to increase chance of success. Not the most amazing assassins (I’ve seen Demonbred) but they are still NINJAS.
Magic: A good mix of magic paths into everything but Blood and Death. While blood is relatively useless to them, Death mages could summon the Oni from the Early Age. However the chances of getting the mage you want is pretty slim. I did the math at one point and discovered that my math has suffered… and that it’s next to impossible to get the one you want. Going to need to go down the construction path first.
CM: When you recruit a mage, they often have a random chance to get additional magical powers, and depending on a particular set can often be a long waiting game. I’ll explain this a bit more when we get into the game.
Priests: so-so, only real note is the monks. They have monks that have one magic level which allows them to cast a race specific spell depending on what type it is. Never really bothered checking them too much because they are battlefield spells >.<
CM: Having priests that also cast magic has some annoying side-effects, which I’ll be running into later on.
We’re also sticking in four random AI opponents. The AI in Dominions 3 isn’t very good: it has a bad habit of spending a lot of gold on troops in provinces it’s captured, rather than saving it for their superior national troops, so they quickly end up with large armies full of fodder, and not much else. If you can form decent armies to hold back the tides of mediocrity, you can probably win by attrition alone. Still, it should be a bit more interesting than two factions slugging at each other all game.
The choices we get for Pretender type vary by faction. Marignon refuses to have an undead Pretender for historical reasons. That’s fine, because our choice still includes dragons, a Phoenix, an Angel, a fountain that gushes blood, human mages with great magical flexibility, and a giant flaming head. The manual has a few suggestions for each faction for those starting out, but we’d like to think we vaguely know what we’re doing.
We can’t choose undead Pretenders, but we can choose demons, as I’ve done here. By the Late Age, Marignon has switched out Witch Hunters and Paladins for Diabolists, who hold off disasters by making pacts with demons. In Dominions terms, that means most of our magic is Fire- and Blood-based, as is that of the Moloch. Choosing a demonic Pretender thus makes some thematic sense.
There are a couple of ways to go with designing Pretenders – I’ll take about them later on, when the different strategies will have some context. Our Moloch starts with two levels of Fire magic and one level of Blood magic, which will be useful for the high-level magic I’m aiming to be casting later on. He’s also decent in combat situations, with a respectable amount of Health, and high Strength for His claw melee attacks, so He’ll have something to do until I have the resources for Him to use His magical skills. For reference, a standard human has a value of 10 in the eight stats that run from Hit points to Precision.
I’m spending a bunch of points increasing the Moloch’s power in His magical paths. Fire magic is great for lots of destructive magic and raining fire down on everything. Blood Magic is a strange one: lots of rulers have banned it. The other magical paths all derive their power from Astral Magic and the magic naturally present in the world, but Blood Magic is fuelled by sacrificing Blood Slaves, young virgins you have to actively hunt for inside your own territory. It has some really nasty battle magic and a lot of ways to summon various demons. Have I talked about demons enough yet? Just as scary is its ability to let you summon Horrors, astral beings that rip into the physical plane and tear everything to shreds. We are not going for a sympathetic Deity here.
The Oni dread mentioned above, as well as being worryingly powerful, are summoned with a spell unique to Jomon – it’s surprising just how many factions have faction-unique spells that use magic paths their mages don’t have access to. A common way to counteract this is to make sure your Pretender can cast it.
I’ve spent points to increase the Moloch’s magical paths quite a bit – again, with the late-game spells in mind. The “Strength+2” on the bottom appeared because of His high skill in Blood magic: it’s a stat boost that any Sacred troops will get in combat if they’re blessed by a priest. Most of the Sacred troops I’ll be using will be mages, so this won’t have much effect.
dread is keeping his Pretender and magic choices close to his chest.
Everything apart from Dominion Strength on this screen are Scales that affect your entire nation, instead of your Pretender specifically. I’m not doing anything with them here, so I’ll let dreadful talk about these. All I’ve done here is increase our Dominion strength to a whopping nine. Apart from making belief in our Moloch spread incredibly fast, getting it up to nine gives Him a nice combat ability I’ll mention when it gets used.
That’s it for Pretender design. There are a lot more options here that I’m glossing over – I’ll address them when we meet a nation where they’re relevant.
Scales: Scales are bonuses/handicaps that affect provinces under your dominion. It does not matter if you own that province or not, as long as they believe. If you are not careful you could end up giving other races bonuses from your scales or suffer handicaps from their scales. What can be affected are
Order/Turmoil: affects income and chances of random events.
Productivity/Sloth: affects resources production and income (but not as much as order/turmoil)
Heat/Cold: each step away from a race’s ideal level reduces income and supplies.
Growth/Death: population growth/death, supplies and income.
Fortune/Misfortune: chance of random events and chance that those events are good/bad.
Magic/Drain: spell resistance , spell fatigue and research bonuses.
Each level in the good scales costs points in pretender design. While each level in bad scales gives points. So by giving yourself good scales you tend to end up with a weak pretender or by giving yourself bad scales you could make a really powerful one. It is about finding the right balance or play style that you want. Heat/cold is considered bad scales either way so if you change from the middle, even if you race prefers a different temperature, it will give you points.
CM: Yes, that means factions that prefer a climate different to the average one effectively get free points. It’s alright for some.
dread: For me I tend to go Turmoil and Fortune. They cancel each other out point wise and I prefer having random good events. Sometimes I could end up with more money than the income bonus anyway but it is a more risky play style. You could get really good bonuses right off the bat or you could even get bad luck. I prefer the good events because some of them are gold, items, province defence, or even unique heroes that you can only get through luck.
Productivity is important if your race has a lot of heavy troops or you plan on making really big armies fast. The amount of troops you make depends on whether you have enough money for them then the amount of resources that province gets a turn vs. the amount of recourses it take to make them. If you have a lot of gold but not much resources you can buy a big army but it will take a long time to make them.
Growth is good because it slowly increases the population in a province which increases the stats of the province overall. It is also important to feed big armies. If the army cannot be fed it will starve, which reduces their fighting abilities and can cause diseases which slowly kills them off.
Magic/Drain really depends on your play style. Do you want a lot of magic or not? If not then go drain, because while it makes it harder for you to cast and research spells it also gives your troops bonus magic resistance and more points to put elsewhere in your pretender design.
CM: Scales work slightly differently if your Dominion is over a province owned by someone else. I’ll get to that as we go.
This plot dialogue appears at the start of every game. Seems a good place to take a break. Next time, we have a look at the map, and take our first steps towards overrunning the world with the armies of Hell.