The problems behind undead factions

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While as a poli sci student it's very interesting to see what is, basically, the transition from a succesful invasion to a never ending counter insurgency operation modeled so accurately in a game that isn't even about modern times, there's a reason people reaaaaaaaaaaally dislike that kind of long, attritional conflict.
It's not completely inaccurate for this kind of thing to exist in a high middle ages setting. Particularly stubborn noblemen, gathering their few remaining supporters and going rogue in the countryside for a variety of reasons: stubborn defiance, desperate survival, revenge... But, that's not the whole story, isn't it? Fleeing to the wilderness to gather people to raid your former homeland wasn't really the go-to option for the defeated ruling class. You'd have some just disappear, others would put their skills to good use to become mercenaries and, of course, many others would simply flock to the winner. The bannerlord AI, however, seems to only choose the most extreme and desperate option. Why is that?

0) What happened in Warband
In Warband it didn't take a fever dream to witness the "faction destroyed" announcement, because Warband was very simple: it all came down to fief assignments. You gave a fief to some guy and not another, then you'd get a relation penalties with the parties that ended up with the short end of the stick. To add to this, fiefless lords would constantly lose relations, so if you didn't satisfy them you were gonna lose them fast. Finally, based on personality traits, how many fiefs a vassal wanted would change: from extremely greedy sociopaths to humble saints that were content with their castle.
The result was:

  • There was a basically continous exchange of Lords between the factions, greedy lords would be thrown out even out of winning factions, meanwhile better ones would eventually be forced out of their homeland
  • Fiefless factions would hemorrhage lords very quickly, and be destroyed in basically a couple of days after their last stronghold falls
  • Factions were easily thrown into a death spiral that basically only the player character could save them from
  • Vanilla suffered from a drought of Lords later on in the game, as those who were passed around too much by the factions would, eventually, be forced in exile outside of Calradia as their monarchs gobbled up most of the fiefs, which makes the late game World Conquest actually pretty easy as you can always outmaneuver stacks of 300 men. Mods came up with a number of solutions to this, including just having them return after a while.
So, what happens in Bannerlord?

1) Do Lords even bicker anymore
I find it particularly dumb that the relation penalty of opposing a lord in a vote can be completely overwhelmed by voting in his favor in the next one with the same amount of influence being spent. Drop a 60 once in a clan's favour and it's done for, BFFs 5eveeeeerrrr.
Bannerlord, unlike Warband, actually has an "expel" button under each clan's page, and yet when have you ever seen it used? When has a Clan ever been exiled, or when have they ever defected to another faction bringing their fiefs (or just their clanmen) along with them? If the player doesn't do it, it never happens.

I won't begrudge the fact that now, specific factions supporting this or that lord for a fief are very explicit, and it makes sense that supporting that lord will basically be the same as being on their side, but now it's straight up impossible to have negative relations with other nobles. If you know what you are doing, most of them are going to be over 50 relations up.
It is also a HUGE problem that candidates are limited to 3: in some votes less than half of the remaining clans even spend influence, dimnishing even further the pool of people to piss off.

I have no idea about fiefless clans and if they drop in relations or not, but clearly it's not enough since I'm still finding them scurrying about like rats on my villages

2) Are you guys doing your part?
AI Clans are, in general, extremely passive in politics. Policy votes are very rare, and that's about it as it seems there's literally no other way to interact with the politics system, but more on that later. The landless clans' only solution to poverty seems to be to desperately try to raid villages and villagers to desperately try to amass funds and men to desperately try to take a castle. That's it, that's the only thing they know how to do. In Warband, lords that chose to go to exile in your kingdom could be found in your court, begging for land to make a living out of. That doesn't happen anymore.

The singular, ONLY way to make a clan defect is for YOU to find the clan leader, hopefully catch their 15 recruits stack, and CONVINCE him! To top it all off, these CHEAP, UNGRATEFUL, VILE BEGGARS turn around and ASK FOR HUGEE AMOUNTS OF MONEY! 400k for a clan with just 2 people capable of leading armies? OH MAN WHAT A BARGAIN! Perhaps that's the reason other clans don't do it: it just costs sooo much money they literally can't afford it!

But whether on purpose or by accident, the AI doesn't help you.

3) The Simpsons Barney getting thrown out meme
Bannerlord has all parties behave along fixed sets of rules: all parties have an inventory, all parties require food, recruiting has to be done in the same way the player does, etc...
I really didn't expect the "parties can enter any non hostile settlement" rule to be such a horrible pain to deal with.
They don't stop coming, you smash their heads again and again and again, with their 15 recruits, and yet they come back later for more at the head of 50.


TW's efforts to stop the death spiral from happening effectively created undead hordes of minions that can recruit everywhere, can rest everywhere and, if defeated, come back in some random non hostile town (I guess that's what happens). No really, when they are ransomed, where do they go? In their listed "home" settlement? Where do they go if that's occupied? To be fair, I've been seeing a "x is fugitive" after I'm done with them, but that only extends to the lords. The mercenaries are the TRUE barney meme, nobles need a premature peace deal first to reappear.

4) Peace in our time? More like Pi-
The idea behind the peace system is, to be honest, good. Peace could be very unprofitable in Warband, and this system creates incentives for factions to declare war on each other even if territorial expansion is not practical. The AI also seems to perfectly understand how it works, I'm not kidding. From a mechanical perspective, it's logical and reasonable for the AI to declare war on a kingdom which has been taking a heavy tribute for some time, and the AI seems to account for amount of tribute paid for its calculations when deciding who should they declare war upon: nations paying tribute are almost never attacked, while those receiving it are targets whenever they're down on their luck. It's also the most realistic part of the undead factions: they don't have much, they can just hope to receive tribute to stop them from looting the countryside. Ok, I've been nice enough.

The system is plagued by weird calculations seemingly out of the player's control: you can stack the corpses of your enemies, the pires of the dead could completely blanket the sky with their smoke, and yet it is YOU who has to pay, so pay up, sucker!
Worst part is, even if you DO force a vote and spend a whole bunch of influence, it would just take them, like, barely a week to declare war on you because, for some strange, unfothamable reason this game doesn't have truces! Why?
So, if you're at war with these factions you're screwed because you have to play Operation Enduring Freedom Simulator: XI century edition, locking you out of doing fun wars with big armies if you don't want your fiefs to burn down and revolt, and if you do make peace, an option that's doable only and exclusively if you're the monarch because AI doesn't do peace with undead factions, you're screwed anyway because they're just gonna build back up (how? I don't know!) and come back with decent parties that are going to mass murder village militias everywhere.

5) The many missed opportunities
What's worst of all, really, is that there are mechanics in Bannerlord that could effectively address this problem, but they're so bare bones they're barely felt anywhere!
  • THE BARTER SYSTEM: I remember seeing this one in a dev diary or teaser back in the day and going "Wow, diplomacy's going to be great!", but where in the fresh hell even is this thing? I know I can go up to a lord right now and "make a deal", but for what? To exchange their daughter for 5 horses and a rusty spatha? Why isn't this used literally anywhere you'd need people convincing, or why can't I use it to actually design a peace deal! IT'S RIGHT THEEEERE!!! Just let me negotiate a 60 day truce with these scoundrels!
  • THE PERSUASION SYSTEM: Everything I've said for the Barter system goes for the persuasion system too. The devs made the choice for persuasion attempts to lead into bartering most of the time, which isn't a bad idea, but why is it so limited? You use it for quests where you can talk, you use it for marriage (god don't get me started on that), and to convince lords to defect. Why can't I use it for politics? Why can't I use it as a way to gain influence separate from, and possibly better than, battles? Why can't I just convince people that we really do need Imperial Towns passed, instead of having it sit at 0% support forever? And so on, and so forth. Obviously, the AI has to be using either it or some version of it that's easier to calculate in campaign simulation to avoid bricking anything below a spaceship computer.
  • THE CLAN SYSTEM: Why can't clans just go indipendent? It's not impossible! Why can't they become mercenaries? The clan system could be used for so many interesting ideas but it's just a relation bar with a banner. Just, so many ideas.
I am convinced that the undead factions are merely the manifestation of large gaps in the design, born from mechanics that don't sufficiently interact with each other. In game solutions already exists, they just need expansion and refinement. Atleast, that's my opinion of it
It've been three years after the release of EA and you still have the passion to write so much. I guess most of the players agree with you. I do, of course. But as a company, TW might has different thoughts and priorities from us. So I always wonder what they are concentrating on and what they are thinking about.
I expect that they put forward DLCs quickly. Diplomacy DLC, Marriage DLC...
TW did cooprate with Paradox before. But they didn't learn something from Paradox. That's add.
Good points!
I had a massive problem with how fast armies regenerate but my latest run, it is actually much better. I found out that imprisoning lords is much better then releasing them. Unless you want a war to stall, you should keep em under lock and key or have them accompany you with the patrols perks.
I have seen what mods have done so far and it looks promising. This series will always be about a solid base game for mods in my opinion.
The more I play, the more I feel this game was made by people who worked on "free to play" microtransactions games, say WoWS or WoT. Everything here is based on grinding - XP, money, smithing parts etc. And now you have to grind encyclopedia too!
The game is full of great potential but it takes so much time to do something and much of that potential is left in half baked mechanics.
Amazing writeup. I lol'd. The tangible vitriol makes it one of the most entertaining reads on this site in a long while.

I am convinced that the undead factions are merely the manifestation of large gaps in the design, born from mechanics that don't sufficiently interact with each other. In game solutions already exists, they just need expansion and refinement. Atleast, that's my opinion of it

Yes, i mostly agree. I am kind of meh about bartering, it feels against the spirit of the game to have a sliding bar where you can literally exchange anything, from your daughters poontang to a castle and overpriced NFT javelins. But yeah the comparisons to warband are pretty sad. My last playthrough in this game was a genocide run and it felt terrible to murder an entire clan within a week only for them to just spawn more. Their main goal is just to annoy the player.
THE CLAN SYSTEM: Why can't clans just go indipendent? It's not impossible!
They actually do sometimes, however I think it's just a bug. I will occasionally see a clan drop it's faction and declare war on the player faction. it doesn't do anything because it's just like any other landless clan trying to raid you, but it can technically happen. I agree though, going neutral and becoming mercs would be more interesting then just trying to raid and goin to jail for all eternity like they do now.
Perhaps that's the reason other clans don't do it: it just costs sooo much money they literally can't afford it!
I don't think the AI pays for anything like that. It was very obvious and annoying during the bug that caused vassals to defect for several version, they would just leave for no reason, but you had to bribe them back at full price. Obviously the AI was not paying them all hundreds of Ks. Normally the clan just has a chance to roll to leave faction and join another once it runs out of money (meaning the faction leader must also run out of money. since they will give them money) but this barely happens because rulers start with so much hidden money that you can clear the map before any of them run out.
The landless clans' only solution to poverty seems to be to desperately try to raid villages and villagers to desperately try to amass funds and men to desperately try to take a castle.
It's even worse then that, they just use the same system as if they were a full sized faction. Because they have no fiefs to defend they calculate their field power as very high and will make multiple wars and become fodder forever. It would be interesting if they would be opportunistically and attack the factions being attacked by the strongest faction or even offer to serve the strongest faction, but as is they just roll for war every so often and attack who ever it decides with no plan or reason.
I think the best option would be more freedom, the ability to marry anyone, but just a big penalty for marrying an npc or a simple peasant. A good option would be if there was an editor for creating a character or even a clan in the sandbox
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