Producing a combat encounter - a quest, skirmish or battle - presents significant logistical challenges. The biggest battles in particular, use hundreds of NPCs, ribboned items, and resources; they require scores of refs and often have complex special FX and safety requirements.
The battle team exists within the plot department to handle the complexity involved in solving these logistical challenges and consists of crew whose primary responsibility is to prepare and run the large combat encounters.
Despite the challenges involved combat encounters are ultimately an encounter like any other. The most important thing for any encounter, combat or not, is to get the plot right. Our combat encounters need to reflect the nuances of the Empire setting and to respect the style adopted for the game.
- Andy Connell - team leader
- Tom Hancocks - lead writer
Andy Connell is in charge of the battle team and has overall responsibility for delivering the experience for battles and large skirmishes. The logistical challenges involved in creating a combat encounter increase sharply with size, with more preparation and work needed by NPCs, costume, make-up, refs, and special FX. Each of these teams are populated with experienced team members and have their own leadership. Andy has overall responsibility for coordinating with these teams and the power to make the final decision if there are disagreements.
Tom Hancocks is the lead writer for battles. Since we have to ensure that we deliver between two and four battles scenarios every event, Tom has taken on the responsibility for ensuring that the battles get written and briefed each event. As a key member of the battle team he is responsible for ensuring that any volunteers are briefed on the character they will be playing for the encounter. In Andy's absence, Tom has final decision over the execution of any battle.
Writers are still expected to be responsible for briefing and setting their plot - but when an encounter features a large number of NPC combatants then many additional factors come into play. Members of plot team are encouraged to write large combat encounters, but to liaise with the battle team over the execution. The battle team will be able to help source and brief the NPCs needed for the encounter as well as provide advice on the execution of the encounter. Writers should find the experience and support of the battle team is an essential asset in delivering their encounter.
Anyone who writes plots for Empire is strongly encouraged to look at creating their own battle. Writing a good battle is a lot of hard work, so the more input we have from existing writers the better. Tom Hancocks and other experienced writers can give help and advice to anyone who is interested in writing a battle. However, because of the size and complexity of a battle, we do not expect our writers to run the battle - this remains the responsibility of the battle team. It is important to discuss your battle carefully with Andy and Tom and the other members of the battle team to ensure that everyone understands the plot and has agreed on the execution.
Any writer who is interested in the execution of the battles, is welcome to talk to Andy or Tom about joining the battle team at events. Team membership is not exclusive - there is nothing prohibiting writers who have some experience working with Andy and Tom on battles from also becoming members of the battle team.
Preparation for a large combat encounter - especially a battle - requires close coordination with several other teams who all need to be involved to make the encounter happen. Previously, much of this work has been picked up by referees. Going forwards we are aiming to shift the preparation to the existing teams to concentrate resources around similar roles and promote specialism. Thus briefing should be done by plot writers - and members of the plot support team - costume and make-up should be handled by members of the costume and make-up team and so on.
It is perfectly possible to run a small encounter with only a handful of participants on either side without a referee as the Empire rules system is designed to be self-reffing. But for larger encounters one or more referees is needed to oversee the combat, ensure the rules are followed and keep an eye on safety issues. The number of refs needed is a function of the size of the encounter - a battle involving hundreds of participants will benefit from having more than a dozen referees present.
For a large battle we need a significant number of full-time experienced referees. We can then supplement their ranks with volunteer battle refs drawn from the player base. The people planning the battle will need to liaise with the referee team to agree on the allocation and placement of referees during the battle. The referees can then be briefed on the plot for the battle and any additional rules elements that they need to know so that they can help deliver the plot.
For smaller combat encounters, like quests, that are going out on in sequence, the Battle Team will liaise with the ref desk who will assign one or two referees to each encounter as needed.
At present plot support is focused on providing help with briefing NPCs for field plots - and has had only limited involvement in briefing NPCs from the skirmish team for quests or battles. We would like to continue to expand the plot support team, recruiting extra volunteers where possible. Hopefully by doing this we will have enough capacity for the plot support team to be able to help out with briefing NPCs and volunteer players for the battles.
Briefing for large battles takes place at two points - there is a battle meeting around midnight on the night before each battle - where Andy Connell briefs unit leaders on the battle and the tactics they will employ. The main character briefing takes place in the 60 minutes before the battle from 10 to 11, when crew and player volunteers are in monster getting ready. This briefing will be overseen by Tom Hancocks - with help from the plot support team and whoever has written the battle.
Costume and Make-up
The costume and make-up teams are experienced at providing support for plot writers who are briefing NPCs for field plots. Tom Hancocks and the battle team will liase with these two teams to see what help they can provide to get the volunteers into costume for the two big battles.
For smaller encounters, like quests, that are going out on in sequence, Matt Pennington, Andy Raff, and Andy Connell will allocate blocks of the time-table for encounters using specific opponents. For example, the quests on Friday night may be assigned to the Druj. Any writer who is running a combat encounter on Friday will then need to feature Druj as the chief antagonists for the encounter. In this way we should minimize the number of costume and make-up changes that are required for the plot. This should reduce the impact on the costume and make-up team - which is essential if we are asking them to look to bring the make-up and costume for all combat encounters under their remit.
The skirmish team are the NPC team members who have indicated that they want to spend the majority of their time NPCing combat encounters. They are the essential resource for crewing quests and skirmishes - and for portraying the unit leaders for battles. This team is lead by Andy Connell - and is automatically assigned in full to both battles.
For smaller encounters, like quests, that are going out on in sequence, Matt and Andy will allocate blocks of the time-table for encounters specifying how many encounters can run at a give time, in what location and with how many crew. For example, the quests on Friday night will feature two steams of encounters running simultaneously - one in the woods and one in the glade - with 25 skirmish team assigned to each encounter in the stream. Any writer who is running a combat encounter on Friday will need to ensure that they have written plot that makes use of the appropriate number of crew in that team. If they need more or less crew, they will need to get this agreed with Matt and Connell.