This guide was first featured on Maerlande's website. As such any updates to the guide will happen there first and hopefully make it here.
As you will see if you look at my history, I wrote this guide for Dominions 4 many years ago. Here is my update for Dominions 5. Enjoy!
Here's the story. You joined a game and you got a nation. NOW WHAT? Maybe you got a nation in a draft and haven't a gory clue about it. Of course you can go chat up people on forums or discord and ask for help. Or you can do your own work.
This part has held up as viable since Dominions 3. 10+ years.
Start up a test game with the correct mods required by your game. Just take a default pretender and look over your troops.
Due to interface improvements you can also do most of this by "create pretender god" and using the live tooltips. But I still prefer a test game. It has a few more options to dig into detail.
You want to ask these questions:
Example: Late Age Erytheia
This is my task tonight. I have never played the nation. In the next part I used numbered list but I did not keep each question to the same number. If that bothers your latent obsessive compulsive…. I propose you edit it to taste. It's like cooking. Use a LITTLE heat, but save the rest for toppings.
Now you need to look carefully at the statistics of your national units. The main thing for pretender design in this section is planning your scales, most importantly production. If your main troops are low gold and high production things like turmoil and production become viable. Things to watch for include:
Late Age Erytheia Example: The units for Erytheia are an interesting mix. There are three general types: amphibious units from coastal forts that have two shapes (merpeople legs in water), regular land units from coast and inland forts, and aquatic only units from sea forts. This makes it a bit tricky to do my favourite review by starting a game since you'd have to expand inland and to water to see all the options. So it is easier to do the review from the pretender design screen and the nation overview.
All of the heavy infantry of Erytheia have formation fighter. This increases the number per square and therefore the number of attacks per square. It tends to make melee troops significantly more effective. And the melee troops of Erytheia are high resource cost so that suggests production scale.
A couple quick things are apparent. The combat move on land of the amphibious coastal units is slow. This is a concern for melee troops since it will take a long time being shot by late age crossbows to get into engagement. The heavy pikemen and sacreds are combat move 5. That's very slow. For ranged troops they have some decent light infantry with javelins. I find it useful to buy light infantry or light armoured ranged to use up spare resources after buying heavy infantry. I adjust that as I expand and gain more resources. It is also easier to buy low resource troops when you simply need numbers for siege or patrol. They have a odd weak crossbow that works in the water. The crossbows do not compare favourably with independent crossbows in having one less damage and a range of 25 compared to 40. You are better off on land simply buying independent crossbows which are common. But in the water any ranged units are helpful.
The aquatic troops are more or less common tritons and do the job fine but can not leave the water.
Gold costs are average with some high resource units. This suggests going with good scales and using mixed formations for expansion. It is late age and depending on the map and opponents getting in the water quickly will be a big help.
The magi you can buy largely determine your mid and end game potential. Troops are still important but the core of your ability to project power will be summons, forging, and battle magic. Globals are important as well and to cast them will need planning such as forging boosters or high path on an elite mage or pretender.
Here are some questions to ask about your magi:
Late Age Erytheia Example: I discussed some of this in the first section. This nation has some of the most variable random magic in the game with, for example, the Princes and Princesses have 8 @ 25% randoms. I'm not going to do the probabilities here but that does give the potential to get level 3 magic in a number of paths. However, it will take either luck or buying very many. The daduchos have 3 @ 50% randoms in air, water, and earth so you will have quite a lot of air 2, water 2, and earth 2 magi. Those all have good battle magic utility and forging option. However, the small chance of level 3 does suggest two things: a rainbow pretender for forging and summoning, and summoning diversity magi particularly Naiads or Kokythiads. The details of how to boost magic to high levels is available on other guides (like MelficeBelmont's Magic Boosting and Access Guide).
Erytheia does not have an obvious primary path. It has easy level 1 access in fire, air, water, earth and astral. And good access to level 2 in air, water, earth, and astral from random magic. Level 3 access is possible but quite rare (2 @ 25% random) on Princes and Princesses. And there is a reliable but uncommon chance to get level 1 nature combined with water magic. Otoh, there are a great many cross path options for particularly forging items. There is no death magic available. That is not a major issue but can be very easily fixed with the pretender. And as noted above, a few crosspath items could help greatly.
For priests, Erytheia has the Nomarch at level 2 for 75 gold. It is a decent leader so could be an option to lead sacreds if you planned that direction. It has some extra traits that may have niche use but not worth any effort at the pretender design stage. The Princes and Princesses are holy 2 and once you recruit the first of each you get a king and queen from event that get holy 3. That opens up some options for throne claiming.
We've gone over what we can recruit and what we have for magic paths. The next questions come to what to do? I look at the grand strategy decision from a broad perspective and I break it up into three game phases. In general, you can be good at two phases but rarely good at all three. How you manage that is key to winning.
What is the early game? The period when research doesn't much matter. Or as some would say a little bit of key research matters. You are working with armies and your pretender if available soon enough. You may also be using a few magi.
Early game is expansion and early rushing. Let's go over expansion first. Most nations can do extremely well expanding with an awake pretender. But that always costs late game power. Can you expand without one? In real multi-player games a practical expansion is 15 or so provinces per player. Some folks shoot for 20+ but the reality is that can lead to an early death by a gang up. In graphs off games it's more viable but with graphs a huge nation is SUCH a target. I prefer to expand moderately and keep in the average size. I play for the win, not to be big fast. I need a caveat here. There is a great variation amongst Dominions communities in the ability to develop alliances to deal with a fast expanding opponent. This is a clear case where you need to grasp the culture of the community and the likelihood of being attacked by multiple opponents for being too threatening.
I am a somewhat careful player who does well in late game. But I have also been pushing myself to use more aggressive designs in the recent past. I am not advocating for any particular style in play just mentioning my own preference and habits.
Early expansion is very easy with heavy bless or an awake SC pretender. Without those you need some scripting skill. Practice fighting with the minimum troops required and you'll do just fine. Do you have powerful expansion troops?
LA Erytheia Example:
My game with Erytheia is now on turn 13 as I write this section. I fumbled the first five turns quite badly but not clearly grasping the oddities of Erytheia troops on land. The slow combat move of the heavy infantry and sacred infantry makes scripting a challenge. However, they do work to expand with minimal bless. Preparing a test game or two and practicing expansion with different pretender designs is a useful tool for important games. I usually do that for large turn a day type games but not for blitz games played in a single day. I cut my testing short this time.
What I found worked was a small number of the sacred Setting Sun with the slow Hoplites to soak crossbows and draw aggression. Then flanking with squads of the faster Phalangites and Thyreophorite javelins.
The nation has potential to do key research rush quickly to help defend against an early human opponent so a focus on Alteration magic to level 4 for body ethereal and other low level buff spells for troops is a valid approach as well. This again supports a light bless and saving pretender points for scales or research potential.
What is the middle game? In my view it's the period of the game when magic becomes as powerful as troops. You can now leverage spells and summons to supplement your basic troops.
I consider mid game to begin when expansion is complete and diplomacy and maneuver starts up in a big way. It tends to be dominated by armies and/or thugs with some mage support but research needs are very critical so magi are quite busy. Do you have some solid middle game options? Things to look for are recruitable or summonable thugs you can gear cheaply. In Dominions 5, I try to limit thugs to a total cost of 15 gems. This is based on the concept that a thug has a specific purpose. I define 3 of them: take light to moderate province defence, killing other thugs, or army support. Each purpose tends to need different equipment or buff spells.
It's also when you MUST site search in earnest. Due to the distribution of sites, manual search with magi with duel or triple paths is by far the most efficient. Analysis has shown that about 90% of all sites are level 1 or 2. This means that the most efficient searchers are multiple path magi at level 2. And some additional paths at level 1 never hurt. I use site searching spells to fill gaps in manual coverage or for paths you get later by a lucky independent mage or a summon. This guide may help: Magic Sites and Searching
So the needs of gems, armies, thugs and research will heavily impact your pretender design. Can you leverage your national power and still not leave any glaring gaps in your options? Will you have a way to eat a neighbour? It's the time of the game to look at weaker neighbours and plan to be in the winning group. Games usually narrow down to the 3-4 real competitors for the win by now.
Many nations can start to convert from purchased armies to summoned armies. This is a time to look carefully at the cost/benefit of summons. There are some VERY efficient summons which hold up well late game and there are a lot of inefficient summons. However, some of the inefficient summons have niche use such as shoring up a defence in the early game during a rush. It's beyond the scope of this guide to go into detail on the efficiency of summons but take note of the many summon spells that scale with magic level. If you take a high bless pretender (therefore high magic), many of these summons are incredibly efficient.
LA Erytheia Example
With wide magic path access but fairly low maximum paths, the magi of Erytheia will be able to cast a broad selection of defensive and offensive combat spells. With wide magic paths, but only a lucky random to get some level 3 higher paths, I expect that summoning quality troops will be a challenge. Forging magic path boosters will also become important for summoning as well as battle magic. So reviewing again the magic available, I can see some key mid game research. Alteration to about level 5 provides a lot of value in fire, earth, water and astral buffing spells. Conjuration of at least 3 provides the magic path boost spells summon earth and phoenix power. Evocation combined with the path boost spells make a number of options for fire, earth and water at research 4 to 6.
And Erytheia has the option of communions. For effective communions key research are Conjuration 5 for Light of the Northern Star and Thaumaturgy 4+ for communion spells and astral attack spells.
In a quick review, there are not many great summons although the national spells for Erytheia deserve a close look. For those not sure, you can easily load the Mod Inspector, select Erytheia as the nation and click the toggle for nation spells only.
You can see that a number of these require path level 3 which is rare and suggests forging boosters. Some also require paths not available on the national magi. I am leaning towards using the pretender to get these paths. A rainbow or titan pretender with broad magic and some bless is looking like a great solution.
For forging boosters, many are available at Construction 4 and most of the rest at construction 6 making those another important goal for research planning in the mid game.
What is late game? This is the period of the game when research dominates.
Unless you are playing on very small maps with few players you will need a late game plan. Here are some classic late game plans.
Late game strategies
LA Erytheia Example:
With the previous sections on specific troops, magi and research it looks like the best late game strategy is lethal squads of battle magic supporting troops and summons. With good access to communions and broad magic paths, Erytheia can cast almost all of the large battlefield wide spells and use powerful high level evocations and thaumaturgy to destroy armies.
As part of the late game plan, I intend to summon a number of diversity magi such as naiads, kokythiads and perhaps lamia queens to broaden the magic available. Most of those require a lot of gems and high level conjuration research. I expect gem income to be excellent compared to many other nations since you have a broad selection of magic at level 2 or higher. I was questioned about this statement since site frequency is lower in late age on default settings although I have seen that many administrators set the magic site higher at game start. But any magic site settings affect nations fairly equally and broader magic leads to more gem income.
With that huge variety in random magic it's hard to predict if global spells will be easily available. They tend to need path level 5 or more and a lot of gems so that will require either the pretender or summoned magi and boosters from forging. No globals stick out as obvious right now in the early planning.
I am leaning more heavily to a diversity pretender.
You have chosen or been given your nation. You've clearly looked over your options and have a pretender concept in mind and some tactics for the different activities. What about those wankers who are ALSO in the game? What a pain in the ass. If single player was at least a competent challenge I could avoid the agony of getting beat by other players. And let's face, even the best player loses about 5/6 games or 9/10 depending on their preferred game size.
What are we looking for? Let's go over some obvious major issues.
Analysing your opponents
You can't predict all the things that your opponents will do. You can make general predictions. Is early age Niefelhiem in the game? They will probably base their strategy on Jarls and a monster bless. What do you do? I don't have all the answers and it's a tough thing to measure. But you will have a rough time if you do not consider your opponents fundamental goals.
Let's break it down. You have say 9 opponents. Look at their nations. What will they likely do? Try to have a plan for the most obvious actions. Sure it's hopeless to plan for everything but the key is to keep in mind the obvious actions. This section of my guide is in some ways the weakest but in others the most critical. I can't hold your hand through every situation you might encounter but the point is to keep things in your plan. Look over who you have to face. What might they do and most importantly what things they might do that are most dangerous to you.
LA Erytheia Example:
The game I am for which I am designing a pretender is all veteran players who needed to convince the administrator that they had the experience to compete effectively. It also has a number of long term players from Dominions 3 time who have returned. The possible strategies are broad and hard to pin down. My opponents and my estimate of their likely strategies are:
Looking over the list, I can see a potential for some very aggressive early rushes especially from nations that go with a big bless. It's my view that a focus on fast research is critical for rush defence. With the high research potential for Erytheia there are two options: very good scales to buy a lot of magi or an awake research pretender.
Now you have gone over in great detail the nation you plan to use. To put it all together, put on that thinking cap, and make a wicked cool pretender. Or at least a useful one.
I use these arch-types to guide my pretender design. You can clearly hybridize but you may weaken the functionality.
I hope you follow my logic as I've worked through the example. I've reduced it to two possibilities: awake research rainbow or imprisoned great scales. Partly for fun I am choosing to imprison a rainbow with at least 3 in all magic paths to have a broad bless. I went this way since Erytheia has a significant research advantage with inspiring on many magi. As this game is now in the early stages, I'm going to postpone showing my exact pretender. I will add it later.
Costs and Benefits
This design allows the bless to be available turn 1 since none of the low level blesses are incarnate. I did a mix of bless that helps the sacred infantry and also magi or thugs. That is a significant benefit. Minor blesses are not as powerful in general as major blesses but when stacked can add significantly to the power of sacred troops.
The scales are very good. Almost maximum. That's a significant benefit with high gold income and production. I expect recruitment to be limited by recruitment points.
The biggest cost is low dominion and few sacred troops. Rainbow magi have expensive dominion candles.
And that sums up my methodology. You can post any comments or discussion here or on the new discord for guides: Dominions Guides Discord I am very happy to have constructive criticism