One thing that somewhat disappointed me and somewhat tired me out of Fallen Enchantress (and Legendary Heroes) is the Heroes. The game is genuinely good, but I feel like StarDock overly relied on the standard gaming paradigm that Heroes should be gamed as “One Super Unit”.
Sure, a super-unit that gains experience. That can get certain special abilities, that you can play dress-up and equip with special equipment, but nevertheless nothing more than “Super-Units”. They are not “Adventurers”, they are “Mercenaries” who obey your orders without question or pay. They have no personalities, can act as 1-man army and whose sole purpose is to wander the map to kill baddies, gather loot and gain experience.
I recently discovered the game Majesty 2, and this really spelled out what was missing from the game: a more freeform and “abstract” control of your hired Heroes. Instead of directing your heroes on the map, you should put up a “Job Board” and give them objectives to fulfill in exchange of gold/crystal/item rewards. You could thus attract these powerful people on to your Kingdom/Empire, and eventually start calling some of the most successful to your court to give specific quests to certain of these heroes (again, in exchange of valuable pay).
“What sort of jobs?” you may ask; well I’m glad you do. I now think of another game that I believe did ONE thing right: Eador : The Broken World (for a less-broken version, try Eador : Genesis). What did Eador did right? The idea that you don’t automatically know of all things present within your borders. The idea that you have to explore your own land to find places of power, lairs of monsters, bandits hideouts.
What if, in Elemental, the initial exploration of regions would give out the lay of the land; forests, hills, rivers, plains, etc.. But you would have no idea of the presence of the special resources; shards, lairs, etc.. The map suddenly becomes a much more ABSTRACT and imprecise, which I believe was one of the thing desired by StarDock when they designed their rather awesome Cloth Map.
By settling in the area, you could then get certain messages of “bandits raiding the local villages”, or “reports of a dead area of the forest where the Deads walk”. In order to assure the protection of your town, you could put up a bounty for the Bandit Leader’s head, or ask for someone to locate the source of the Death Magic. The likelihood of success would be based on their skill focus. For example: Wilderness-specialists would have better % of chance of success to exploration/tracking down missions, while Martial-specialists could do better in missions requiring an exterminator. Certain missions could require adventurer team-up (finding a Bandit’s lair and wipe it out) for better % of success.
Continuing with taking a page out of Majesty and making it fit inside Elemental: researching Adventurer-friendly facilities so Adventurers could come and purchase gears/magical powers; making your Heroes more powerful as the same time as getting some of the Bounty Money you awarded back. An aspect of Elemental I know I loved was the idea that you could send your heroes to another country’s border to purchase some of THEIR gear. The concept was fantastic, and we could do so much with it.
The idea of managing heroes through Quest/Missions/Job Board will alleviate the rather overly-martial focus of heroes present in the game. Now, it will be possible for Rangers to gain in Experience through ways other than fighting.
There would be many ways to interact with your heroes. As I have said; the basic mean of attracting nobodies would be, as I suggested, through Job Boards. Ye basic bounties. You could have a menu keeping track of the heroes who are active within your kingdom; their reputation/personality/experience/equipment. If you sponsor the classic “Adventurer Inn”, it’s logic to get intel on the people in your kingdom.
If you have a rather hard/delicate mission to achieve, you could Summon some of these adventurers to your palace and give them a quest, with a promise of reward. These quests will obviously be for the higher-level adventurers.
Thing is; high-level adventurers would only stick around if you have missions to give them. They could leave your land and find jobs in another Kingdom/Empire, or (worse) stay and start to fester some troubles in your land. A way you could secure the loyalty of high-level heroes is hiring them as Retainers, in exchange of a hefty fee per turn; making sure they stick around when they are missionless.
With this system, we could even retain the idea of “loyal followers” adventurers; they would be simply free Retainers. Your own Overlord could be played as such “Free Adventurer” if the idea of having your player avatar in the game strikes you.
Now, I can already hear a complaint regarding the de-emphasis on the “strategy” aspect of the game; but I can assure you, it will instead create a new dimension to the “management” and put the “strategy” back on the Army’s shoulder. No longer will it make sense to have an army composed entirely of heroes; you will still need to recruit troops to hold your land and conquer neighbours. You could maybe pay Heroes to bolster your armies’ capacities (and maybe show up on the battlefield) or sabotage enemy armies, but the brunt of the strategic aspect of the game should rest on disciplined troopers; not ambitious adventurers.