Espionage: Possible improvements by using the upcoming Situation System

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A2ch0n

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With the new Situation system there would be a good opportunity for some real espionage Improvements. And it could even bring some kind of active counter intelligence on the table.

As a real espionage enthusiast I thought a long time how to improve this system in a way that even those that dislike it normally, won’t be completely against it. But the system had to be still in favour of those of us that really want to use it and not it’s opponents. So I thought about a compromise that would improve the counter gameplay for the targeted empire in the first place in exchange for more power for the attacker.

So, what is the idea: Within the Dev Diary #245 – We have a Situation we got some information how empire internal events will be handled in the future. And this system is a incredible good baseline how espionage could be improved.

First step: The attacker espionage interface.

This one don’t need much change except some very necessary enhancements in empire targeting. The attacker should be able to select the target empire freely and this should even involve awakened fallen empires. The way operations work is not changed and the Intel and asset system will stay exactly as it is now.

Codebreaking, Encryption and Operation skill are still used the same way to define how effective an attack or defense could be. But as soon the operation is started some changes will happen.

Second step: The situation.

If the defender is not far behind in case of encryption compared to the attackers codebreaking (against non-existing encryption it is an automatic success), the target empire will get a warning that a unknown Situation is about to happen and an entry in the situation screen is created. The speed how fast this situation progresses is determined by the espionage operation progress. So it is not a monthly situation progress like other situations. I always make a progression jump if the attacker finishes a stage, so it’s similar to the actual speed for operations.

As soon the defender gets this Situation, he can choose an approach in the same way other situations will be handled too. The options are either ignore the situation (you can change your mind later of course) or to investigate the situation.

If you decide to investigate the situation, you have to assign a envoy to start a counter intelligence operation to find the goals and maybe the attacker. The investigation progress is determined by the own espionage attributes, mainly codebreaking and operation skill. Encryption does already its part by slowing the attacker’s progress down.

The situation events between the start and the conclusion of the investigation can give opportunities to add additional resources and/or additional envoys and maybe some assets from owned spy networks (blocking or removing that asset). This increases the speed of the investigation and your own codebreaking/encryption but only for this single counter operation. The better your own operation skill/codebreaking and the more maintained spy networks you own yourself, the higher is the chance for additional options here.

Third step:

If the defender can manage to uncover the goal of the operation, counter measures can be activated. This will reduce vastly the damage done to the defender, maybe even nullify it. Nullification will only happen if you archieve two things. First, your codebreaking (with all bonus additions) is equivalent or higher than that of the attacker (if lower, the difference determines the amount of damage reduction you can archieve) and second to decide to disrupt the ongoing operation or let it happen.

Fourth step:

If you decide to let the event happen you can keep the investigation running to find the attacker. This option will only be available if there is enough time left (maybe half of the time) It should not easy be possible to uncover a well prepared espionage operation but if you're a master of your own it is possible. The attacker will of course not know about your counter investigation until a certain point. As soon the defender come close to the attacker he can run measures on his own. This include disavowing the operation or set false flags to point at a different target. Here it is again a comparison of the modified codebreaking values. The codebreaking of the defender has maybe changed with additional resources and/or envoys so there is even a chance against a stronger attacker if you have paid the price but it’s of course no guarantee.

If the defender can manage to uncover the target, the operation of the attacker fail and the defender will know the name of the attacking empire, even lower the attackers spy network level by a certain amount and maybe remove some assets. Of course this can lead to some diplomatic consequences. If the operation of the attacker concludes before the investigation uncovers the attacker, the defender gets the full hit. So it is always a risk to hunt the attacker. The attacker on the other hand can decide that the risk of being uncovered is too high and instead try to set a false flag to shake off the investigators instead of finishing the operation. Then the operation is lost, but the defender gets the wrong empire name and there is no network loss. Sometimes this is even more valuable than the original operation.

So, what would this mean for the whole System? First, espionage get a lot more thrill because you never know if you have someone on your trail or not. Second, an empire with strong espionage focus will still be in favour against one that doesn’t care. Empire sprawl could modify this to a certain extent too. Third, espionage beat espionage. If you’re good in it or have the fitting tradition/edicts running you can most likely mitigate much of the damage if not all. After all, you know the tricks! Fourth, the more complicated and impactful the operation the more time is needed for the attacker to finish it. This gives the defender more time to stop you or even catch you doing bad things. That’s some kind of balance.


So, up to here it is the basic idea behind the Situation system changes. But all of this is of course completely unnecessary if espionage doesn’t get the punch it really deserves. With such a system and even the ability to counter an ongoing operation we need an improvement to the existing operations and a lot of new ones. All of those should be able to do real harm to the target.


Some examples for improved existing operations:

Smear campaign: Always free targeting; Lower the relation based on your success vs the counter mitigation. Can do heavy harm. Modifier stacks if repeatedly used.

Sabotage Starbase: Damage increased. The damage should range from the actual state over destroying all buildings up to a downgrade to a baselevel starbase with all consequences.

Steal Technology: The more successful the attacker is, the more tech is stolen. This ranges from the actual level (bad outcome) over stealing a complete tech up to stealing multiple techs.

Arm Privateers: The more successful the operation, the more pirate fleets will spawn and in more systems simultaneous.


And here some ideas for new operations:

Provocation: Uprising: Try to start a rebellion. The result depends on the empire internal happiness/stability, the sprawl and the amount of success during the operation. The result ranges from some stability loss on some planets up to multiple planets rebell.

Provocation: Spark War: Immediately start a war between two empires. Bad relations are needed. Can only be successful or not. The more worse the relations the higher the success chance.

Provocation: Assassination : Assassinate a target leader. The higher the position/level ( Scientist < General < Admiral < Governor < Ruler) the difficulty and time increases. If successful, the target dies and some empire wide effects happen for some time ranging from decreased science output (scientist) over increased war exhaustion (General/Admiral) to stability loss (Governor/Ruler). Some targets like the chosen one are really hard to kill.

Sabotage: Sabotage Megastructure: Deactivate or even destroy a megastructure for some time/partial. Effect ranging von a short deactivation time to destroying the structure which set it to a ruined state with a one stage full repair.

Sabotage: Sabotage fleet: Weaken shields and weapons of a target fleet to a certain extent up to destroying that fleet completely. Most effective against doomstacks.

Sabotage: Industrial Sabotage : Destroy some buildings and or districts. The higher your success the more buildings/districts get destroyed. Adds some planet devastation. Can kill some pops.

Manipulation: Influence Ethic : Changes the ethic of an amount of pops to a ethic of your choice and increase ethic attraction for some time. With higher success, more pops are changing and the ethic attraction modifier increases

Manipulation: Breach the law : Lower the targets diplomatic weight and maybe bring them in breach of galactic law. The sanctions of course depend on the actual settings in the galactic community.

Subterfuge: Steal/Liberate Pops : Steal some pops from the target. The amount depends on your success.

Subterfuge: Expell/Take Over branch office : This operation changes depending on the type of empire you are. Megacorps can take over a targeted branch office while standard empires remove one or more of them. Not available to hives (ofc)


So, I’m done. I really hope you like it! If all this changes would make it into the game, espionage would finally be in a really good spot and worth of using /focusing on it. Actually it’s more like a meme or a roleplay option.

The biggest concern of the opposing players is the inability to do something against it. With these changes you can, if you are willing to put some effort into espionage yourself. It is absolutely not meant to simply block espionage without interaction or even ignoring the system, it should be a real threat that reminds you frequently to think about your choices. Do you want to defend against it? Know the tricks by learning them! Like all mechanics in Stellaris you would need to do it yourself. If you want defend against a war, you need ships. This wouldn’t be different.

Thanks for reading!
I’m curious about your opinions :)
 
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mammonmachine

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I think the idea of handling counter-espionage via the situation system is a good one. Personally I would shape it so that it is not always clear whether the situation is arising domestically from within your empire (terrorists for sabotages, corrupt scientists for tech theft, real rebellions) or is a result of espionage. I would also be very wary of really dramatic outcomes, like destroying a megastructure -- disabling it for a period might be ok though.
 
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SeraphAscending

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I just skimmed through the proposals, but i am 100% for utilizing situations for espionage for the receiving end.
There needs to be agency for the target or it just ruins all fun. (assuming there is any strength behind the operations - which isn't the case at the moment.)
 
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A2ch0n

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I would shape it so that it is not always clear whether the situation is arising domestically from within your empire (terrorists for sabotages, corrupt scientists for tech theft, real rebellions) or is a result of espionage
I absolutely agree here. Thats why i said it should be a "unknown" situation. If we get real internal events maybe with cepheus or with a own internal politics expansion, those events should be unknown at first as well and need the same investigative first steps like i suggested above. You should never know if it is an espionage related event or just a coincidence.
 
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Tamwin5

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While I've been a supporter of Situations caused by espionage ever since the situations were revealed I really don't think every operation should create a situation. Especially with operations like gather information, steal technology, and extort favors that tend to be spammed repeatedly. Now, you could adjust the way operations work so they are more expensive, less frequent, and more powerful. That would be a fairly substantial rework though, and would require a fair amount of testing to make sure it plays well and feels good. Considering that it's not actually necessary, I don't think it's the right move here.

Instead, situations should only be used for the important espionage actions that impact the defender. Smear campaign, Assassinate, uprising, spark war, stuff like that. Not every operation that causes harm to the defender should have a situation. For example, Spark Diplomatic incident is minor enough that it shouldn't create an entire situation (and besides, the events can happen randomly already), and sabotage starbase the timing is very important so having it delayed behind a situation I don't think would be a good idea.

Now, that's not to say these shouldn't ever create a situation. If an empire had its tech stolen 3 times within 10 years, then it would fire a situation about how scientific secrets are being lifted. This provide an opportunity to make future steal tech operations harder, or possibly even all espionage, depending on how much you are willing to invest/sacrifice. Low commitment would probably just be a special project or a scientist being assigned, while high commitment would result in a permanent penalty to your research (or permanent for however long the extra safeguards are in place. Similarly, if an empire managed to get more than 5 favors on you via the extort favor operation or the diplomacy tradition which gives favors on improve relations, it would fire a situation (or possibly just an event) about it, giving you the option to double down on friendship, or cut as many diplomatic ties as you can (and one or two more options).

As for your proposed operations, a lot of them fall for a very common trap in espionage systems. Specifically, they are much more "feels bad" for the target than they are "feels good" for the user. Blowing someone's building, or megastructure, is very much that. Similarly, I wouldn't allow the ability to assassinate any leader, but rather have it only be the ruler. The ruler is the public face of an empire, and it makes sense that they are more exposed. For the situation this event would cause, the defender could choose to use defensive measures to try and keep their ruler safe, or make big public speeches and otherwise show that they will not be cowed by foreign threats, generating unity or empire wide effects. A "partial" success of the operation would be possible, where the lead receives the maimed trait. If it fully succeeds, it should cause an empire wide -10 stability loss (-15 for Imperial/Dictatorial), and give the empire who launched the operation the opportunity to publicly claim credit. If they do so, they get a big chunk of influence, but obviously the target will hate them.
 
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great lakes

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it would also be cool if this means that ops can blow up in the attacker's face. not only did you fail to assassinate the great and illustrious God-Empress Veronica IV, but you were caught red-handed. now i have the assets to undermine your defense, and the righteous cause to bless your sinful words with her majesty's exalted rule. you will rue the day!
 
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SeraphAscending

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While I've been a supporter of Situations caused by espionage ever since the situations were revealed I really don't think every operation should create a situation. Especially with operations like gather information, steal technology, and extort favors that tend to be spammed repeatedly. Now, you could adjust the way operations work so they are more expensive, less frequent, and more powerful. That would be a fairly substantial rework though, and would require a fair amount of testing to make sure it plays well and feels good. Considering that it's not actually necessary, I don't think it's the right move here.

Instead, situations should only be used for the important espionage actions that impact the defender. Smear campaign, Assassinate, uprising, spark war, stuff like that. Not every operation that causes harm to the defender should have a situation. For example, Spark Diplomatic incident is minor enough that it shouldn't create an entire situation (and besides, the events can happen randomly already), and sabotage starbase the timing is very important so having it delayed behind a situation I don't think would be a good idea.

Now, that's not to say these shouldn't ever create a situation. If an empire had its tech stolen 3 times within 10 years, then it would fire a situation about how scientific secrets are being lifted. This provide an opportunity to make future steal tech operations harder, or possibly even all espionage, depending on how much you are willing to invest/sacrifice. Low commitment would probably just be a special project or a scientist being assigned, while high commitment would result in a permanent penalty to your research (or permanent for however long the extra safeguards are in place. Similarly, if an empire managed to get more than 5 favors on you via the extort favor operation or the diplomacy tradition which gives favors on improve relations, it would fire a situation (or possibly just an event) about it, giving you the option to double down on friendship, or cut as many diplomatic ties as you can (and one or two more options).

As for your proposed operations, a lot of them fall for a very common trap in espionage systems. Specifically, they are much more "feels bad" for the target than they are "feels good" for the user. Blowing someone's building, or megastructure, is very much that. Similarly, I wouldn't allow the ability to assassinate any leader, but rather have it only be the ruler. The ruler is the public face of an empire, and it makes sense that they are more exposed. For the situation this event would cause, the defender could choose to use defensive measures to try and keep their ruler safe, or make big public speeches and otherwise show that they will not be cowed by foreign threats, generating unity or empire wide effects. A "partial" success of the operation would be possible, where the lead receives the maimed trait. If it fully succeeds, it should cause an empire wide -10 stability loss (-15 for Imperial/Dictatorial), and give the empire who launched the operation the opportunity to publicly claim credit. If they do so, they get a big chunk of influence, but obviously the target will hate them.
Generally agree with your sentiment here.
Situations should not be over-used.

But i think situations should be used differently depending on action.
A sabotage operation might cause one after the fact on how to deal with the damage while a ruler assassination might warn you about a security breach in the palace and you have to consider how much you invest or if you are going to bunker down. Bunkering down would obviously keep your ruler very safe, but would not just come with economic cost, but also with political cost. (maybe minor loss of influence + reduced governing ethics attraction)

This should be an option because having something hard-to-replace liker a high level ruler just poof out of existence just feels bad.
There needs to be preventative action possible - even if it comes at significant economic cost.
(I won't go into how 5 edicts fund per level is laughable and ruler level perks should be replaced/improved significantly)
 
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BramBora8

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How would you do the targeting for the operations?
Also, maybe the attacker could choose the “severity” of the attack (for some ops at least). Higher severity and better relative en/de-cryption would then determine If the op even shows in the situations
Unrelated, but more ops should be added. Like kidnapping pops.