1. When describing defense, you write that the "The actual damage reduction will be discussed elsewhere". Has it been? IIRC in Master of Magic every sword represented a roll for 1 HP damage and every shield represented a roll to block 1 HP of damage. Does FE operate on a similar basis? My memory of this aspect of MoM is bit fuzzy but I think the roll was a universal default of 30% and certain units/spells/experience levels would modify this.[/quote]
The way damage works is that damage_dealt = rand(0.5*max_damage, max_damage), calculated for each damage type in an attack.
max_damage is calculated separately for each damage type, with physical attacks being affected by defense and physical resistances (usually only from unit abilities, e.g. Banshee physical immunity), and magical damage being affected by elemental resistances.
physical_max_damage = [PhysicalAttack*PhysicalAttack/(PhysicalAttack + Defense)]*(100 - physical_resistance)/100
Most units have 0 physical resistance, so that can generally be ignored.
<element>_max_damage = <element>_attack*(100 - <element>_resistance)/100
No troop equipment offers lightning resistance, but on the other hand lightning damage is kind of rare and weak on troop weapons, and isn't offered on troop trinkets. Most factions can have 25% or 50% resistance to either Fire or Cold damage, but having either will generally mean that the other resistance is 0%; Altarians are one exception to this, with up to 75% Fire Resistance or 25% Fire and 50% Cold Resistance, while Quendar (Magnar) are the other exception, with up to 100% Fire Resistance but never more than 0% Cold Resistance, barring custom factions.
The "defense bonus while defending" stuff only comes into play with certain unit abilities (e.g. Guarded Strike) or by passing that unit's turn; the effect is that the defense of the unit which is defending (has a shield over its head) is increased by the amount listed (this is cumulative for each bonus - a shield that grants 8 defense while defending and the Defender trait which grants 3 defense while defending together grant a bonus of 11 defense while defending). However, this bonus is only active until the defending unit takes its next action, and a unit will not generally go into defensive stance if it makes an attack (there are exceptions, such as by using Guarded Strike). Swords, or Ironeer Blood units, tend to be the only units I would generally get defense while defending bonuses for, because swords have counterattacks (for half the Attack rating of the regular attack), and Ironeer Blood grants the Guarded Strike ability which drops the unit which uses it into defensive stance. Non-sword units that do not have Guarded Strike will only get defense while defending bonuses if they don't make an attack in their turn, and since they usually don't get counterattacks this usually isn't the best thing to do (note that this does not mean you should not use the best available shield when designing/training/upgrading a one-handed weapon unit, it only means that you probably won't be making use of its defense while defending bonus).
Ram's Horn Longbow -50% armor -4 ini is SICK, add Bloodthirsty to that etc. and they will do more damage than mages
I disagree. Even when ignoring 50% of the defending party's armor, you'll lose half your damage when the defense of the target is twice the attack of the Ram's Horn Longbow, and since the Ram's Horn Longbow only has 12 Attack (plus Fortress benefits), this means that chainmail and a kite shield essentially gets you there. Anything better than that, or that has defensive traits in addition to that, or anything that has ridiculous amounts of +defense research (such as Ridiculous+ AIs late game), and your Ram's Horn Longbows will be outperformed by your Incineration Staff Mages or the equivalent cold staff Mages (and if you have Ram's Horn Longbows, you should have been able to get the high-end staffs, so don't tell me I'm comparing different tiers of weapons). The advantage is that the Ram's Horn Longbows don't cost strategic resources, not that they particularly outperform magic staves in terms of damage output.
Archers are very good, just harder to get than mages.
This is true as long as defense numbers haven't gotten terribly high. Games against non-Ridiculous+ AIs, bows will probably work about as well as staves, as long as you don't drag the game out too long.
What are your thoughts on archers? Archers obtained through quests in the early game are pretty valuable, but do you ever build archers? The technology for building archers is a good ways into the tech tree, where as it is much quicker to reach the tech for mages. From a resource standpoint it is the opposite, archers are easier to build than mages (all other things being held equal). I imagine an early game empire will lack for tech or crystal production to build either in most cases. When you get to the point where you can build both, do you build both or do just you go all mages?
If I have sufficient crystal and don't want it for other purposes (or have enough of it to fund both staff users and "other purposes"), I'll skip archers. Magic damage is far superior to physical damage, and without the Master Archers faction trait the staves are generally far superior to the bows, and additionally much easier to research (even the initial staves are at least as good as Yew Longbows if the AI doesn't have any resistance items on its troops and has the majority of its troops with at least as much defense as the Yew Longbow units have per-figure attack, and even with 50% to the appropriate resistance the initial staves are at least as good as Yew Longbows if the AI troops have defense at least double the per-figure attack of the Archers, and neither of these situations is uncommon or difficult; for Ram's Horn Longbows, the defense needs to be double the attack rating for the initial staves to perform equally well in a 0% resistance case, or quadruple if the troops have 50% to the appropriate resistance, but again this isn't terribly hard or uncommon; the end-game staves will almost always outperform Yew Longbows against any opponent, and are generally at least equal to Ram's Horn Longbows in my opinion). If I don't have sufficient crystal to pull this off, then I'll build archers, assuming I've spent the research to allow me to do so.
Archers suffer the problem of there being so many superior technologies to research instead, and also that the basic staves are good enough to last the whole game and are available long before the bows are. Technologies that allow you to get better staves also allow you to get better other things (crystal mines, troop equipment, and city improvements), technologies that allow you to get better bows only give you better bows and a catapult (which is too slow and not really worth having in a field army). Early game archers obtained from quests are good, later on in the game I don't usually find it worthwhile to train more. Magic staves are simply better, especially with damage trinkets.
7. Strictly non-combat question: the unrest due to number of cities, is it +3%/city?
Yes. You can counter this globally with Apiaries (Twilight Bees improvement), a champion trait (Administration III, -5 global unrest, stacks with each champion who has this trait), a sovereign profession (Noble), and Fortress level-up options (Prison, Onyx Throne), or locally by improving the unrest-reduction buildings, by choosing certain Town and Conclave level-up options, by casting certain spells, or by adding champions/henchmen (particularly Commanders with Administration traits). Generally speaking, you'll have plenty of unrest reduction until you get to more than 10 or so cities even if you don't have any global unrest reducing structures or traits, and after that, just having a few level 4 or level 5 fortresses with Prisons or Onyx Thrones or both will take care of everything (if you have enough of them, you won't even need to build unrest reduction structures anywhere in your empire, but I wouldn't recommend making that many Fortresses). There are also a few structures that locally nullify the empire-size unrest (Towers of Dominion are one example).
4. I was thinking about the Spell, Elemental, and Poison resistances. Does Spell Resistance only block negative buffs (don't know if this is right term) or does it block magical attacks as well? To put the question another way: if a unit is targeted by a tactical fireball spell is this checked against the target's spell resistance, fire resistance or both?
Both - spell resistance to see if the spell is resisted (percentage chance that the spell applies the full effect equals Caster_Spell_Mastery - Target_Spell_Resistance, min of 5% and max of 95% or something like that), and Fire Resistance is then applied to the damage as a scalar multiple on the damage range - so damage_dealt = (100 - Fire_Resistance)*rand(min_damage, max_damage)/100. Both the spell resistance and the elemental resistance are checked on a unit-by-unit basis for area-of-effect spells.
Incidentally, the hit chance calculation works the same way - %_hit_chance = attacker_accuracy - defender_dodge, bound between 5% and 95%.
[quote who="McBeef" reply="4" id="3395609"]8. What are your feelings about the various unit traits that you can add to trained units? You only have 3 free slots against many good traits so it is a tough choice. Iron Skin seems like a no-brainer to me. In the later stages of the game, Plate Ability would be a must have for the front line units. What are your thoughts on Reap (heals +1 HP per attack)? The traits that increase with the level seem good: Discipline (+1 accuracy and spell resistance per level) and Acrobat (+1 dodge per level). Spell Resistance (+20 spell resistance) and Precision (+10 accuracy) don't increase with the level but offer big up front bonuses. It is impossible to say anything useful about Defender (+10 Defense while defending) without knowing how defending actually works which goes back to question #3.
I would say that Reap isn't really worthwhile because it's not affected by the size of your unit, Acrobat and other dodge bonuses are only really worthwhile if you're custom-designing a dodge-based unit (and dodge is a really weak defense mechanism later in the game), Discipline and Precision are decent but largely overshadowed by Fortress bonuses. Iron Skin is good early on for tank units, and can be useful for later-game tank units, or to pull the defense up a little on a weak unit. All of the spell resistance bonuses are generally too small to have an impact when facing a decently high-level caster, and most casters who aren't decently high level are often not much of a threat (exception made for Dark Wizards, Banshees, and Haunters if they can get their spells off), and are usually too specialized of a bonus to be worthwhile. Underdog/Brute are somewhat specialized and unreliable. Finesse makes the damage of your swordsmen and spearmen more comparable to that of your axemen and clubmen on a per-hit basis, and better on an over-time basis (disregarding special abilities, which favor axes and clubs due to the alpha strike). Initiative bonuses are almost always worthwhile. +X% damage or +X Attack bonuses are only useful on units with significant amounts of physical attack, and only as long as the defense ratings on the opposition haven't become significantly larger than the attack ratings on the troops you put these traits on.
On the whole, I'd prefer the initiative, defense, and health traits, and rely on trinkets which boost magic damage for offensive bonuses.