Improving the usefulness of mercenaries / minor factions

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I'm planning a mercenary/trader playthrough with late-game taking a city as an independent, to start a small merchant kingdom. Mercenaries are going to be really important to my early survival, especially as I want to be quite picky with what clans I recruit.

However, mercenaries can be quite difficult to hire for the player. AI kingdoms snap most of them up with no regard for culture clashes and don't seem to have to rely on chasing down the leader to hire them like the player is. They are also incredibly fickle, and while they should retain some of this unreliability atm they desert seemingly randomly when things are going really well for them (e.g. leave your faction immediately after your 4th successful siege in a row).

Mercenaries need some tweaking to improve their effectiveness and also maintain their roleplay element.

Improving mercenary hiring
It should be easier for the player to recruit these companies. Perhaps allowing talking to any hero of the mercenary guild should be enough to recruit them, not just their leader, as they tend to be quite spread out when unaffiliated. An alternative would be extra dialogue set up at player settlements (perhaps only at the 'capital' if designating capitals becomes a feature), where it is possible to request mercenaries; either through writing up the contract with a company's representative in the city or by making the AI mercenary faction leader travel to that settlement so you don't have to hunt them down to talk to them. A more passive system of helping recruit would be mercenary leader deliberately tracking down leaders of wealthy factions at war.

It'd also be good if mercenaries made more informed decisions about joining AI factions. They should avoid joining severely outmatched factions unless the pay is astoundingly good and their leader has the Daring trait. They should also leave the faction if their parties are decimated and all their members imprisoned. It'd be nice if the player could haggle on their contract fee as well, seeing as the AI can choose to offer different wages to a mercenary player. Relations with the merc faction, charm skill and your military situation should all affect your success of haggling to a lower price.

Once their contract is up, the option should be given to the player to renew the contract, if offered. Mercenary companies should evaluate your military situation (especially whether you're at war or not), their own strength (i.e. are they getting annihilated) and also relationship; based on their evaluation, mercs can either offer to renew the contract, on the same terms or an increased fee (if fighting a tough war or player faction is at peace), or decline to renew the contract. This will stop the seemingly random desertion (reloading a save shouldn't have any real effect on it, whereas reloading currently does).

Mercenary parties are also typically too small to stand up to enemy lords alone and spend most of their time raiding villages then getting captured when someone shows up to defend. The cavalry-based minor factions do better at this due to the all cavalry advantage of both campaign speed (avoiding bigger parties) and auto-resolve calculations. The best way to use mercenaries as the player, especially if keeping them unique specialists (see below section), is therefore to enlist them in an army to make up for a lack in a particular type of troop... but why does it cost influence to get mercenaries to join your army? I can understand it as a vassal, considering you're borrowing the King's/Emperor's mercenaries, but as a faction leader there should be no influence cost (you are the one paying them after all). Abolishing the influence cost for faction leader also will really help nascent player kingdoms establish themselves.

Improving mercenary and minor faction flavour
Currently, all the mercs work fairly similarly. While they may begin the campaign with their unique troops, they quite quickly become diluted with the recruits of whatever faction they are currently serving. I personally would love it if each merc faction retained their unique specialist flavour; that way, I know what I'm getting when I hire them and I know what I'm up against if facing them (e.g. why is half the Skolderbrotva party I just attacked made up of horse archers?). For example, mercenary parties will recruit from cities still but will instead receive their unique basic unit, keeping them specialists.

I also think mercenaries and other minor factions need to be distinguished. The 'proper' mercenary companies (Golden Boar, Legion of the Betrayed, Skolderbrotva, Ghilman) should excel in their specialisms and have the most/largest parties. Established mercenary companies should also be far less likely to desert on a whim but will be far more expensive to hire.

Minor factions which are essentially cultural groups however (Karakhergit, eleftheroi, Forest people etc.) should be less effective than the established mercenaries and prone to breaking contract early if they evaluate their situation to be non-profitable or are being destroyed. On the flip side, they should be cheaper. Also some of their hostilities with major factions make no sense: e.g. the Eleftheroi are frequently mentioned as being used as mercenaries by the empire to counter the khuzaits, so why are they hostile with all three imperial factions? They should at least be neutral with the Northern Empire or Southern Empire if they're meant to be recruited against the Khuzaits (I would lean towards the Northern, given the encyclopaedia description of Amprela).

Finally, criminal factions (Hidden Hand, the Brotherhood, Beni Zilal, Lake Rats) should not be hireable and should only serve as a nuisance to their parent factions and early-game targets/threats for the player (I mean the Lake rats are described as 'scorned by the rest of Calradia', why would anyone hire them as mercs?). The Hidden Hand and Embers of the Flame in particular are pretty useless against a proper army anyway, so really they should be focused as more a danger for caravans, villagers AND the player early-game.

Also, it'd be nice to see hostile minor factions raiding villages. It'll provide an economic penalty to factions who overextend themselves conquering far-away provinces instead of keeping the hostile minor factions in check.
 
I am quite surprised that your post has gone unnoticed.
Here are some of my thoughts:
It'd also be good if mercenaries made more informed decisions about joining AI factions.
Mercenary parties are also typically too small to stand up to enemy lords alone and spend most of their time raiding villages then getting captured when someone shows up to defend.
I agree with you. I feel that mercenaries should serve a specific purpose. For example, the Beni Zilal should serve as a raiding force for employing factions, rather than joining main army and getting destroyed.
I feel that mercenaries should be divided into a few categories, and I can think of raiders, soldiers, and vanguards. Raiders will have the predisposition of raiding villages and caravans, soldiers will join armies and increase numbers, vanguards should stay back and destroy raiders and join in castle/city defenses. When you employ them, you can tell them what to do, or else they will stick to their default dispositions.

While they may begin the campaign with their unique troops, they quite quickly become diluted with the recruits of whatever faction they are currently serving.
I once posted here as well that mercenaries should have their own strongholds, where they can replenish their unique troops quickly. I also think that they should have simple quests for you to build relationship with them so that you are allowed to access their stronghold and recruit unique troops, trade unique items, and forge unique items.
 
+1 - I think the culture impact should mean more and cause a morale hit, much like how WB had the morale hit for cultures you were at war with, or when you hire bandits.

I really hate the hardcoded Minor wars, there should not be any of that and instead move Hidden Hand, Forest People, etc into the "bandit" faction so they can attack everyone and anyone. However - it should be possible to recruit them into your Kingdom with the right relation. To replenish them any losing Rebel clan should fill into this outlaw/bandit slot.

I really want a hiring board or a messaging system, I know @Duh_TaleWorlds took a look at that in the Roadmap thread in SP (or was it in general) that would make hiring them easier. To expand, you should be able to buy out contracts, hire them as an independent and overbid other kingdoms.

Finally, they need to start with wives and be able to marry / be married. For flavor Id like female led minor factions, not a single one, of course this would be more impactful if marraiges meant much. Like if I marry Ira and her mom dies I should get a PU on SIMP, if I marry into a MF I can get a PU on them

Sorry for the hijack +1 OP
 
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