Overview

Over the past 5 years, alongside working hard on supporting out of character access needs, Profound Decisions and its volunteer teams have begun to increase the range of accessibility needs met by its various plots and the encounters and activities within them. This document aims to make it much clearer and easier to find the information you need to discover what provisions we have made and to understand how to request further adjustments to help you enjoy the game.

Our general information on the out-of-character factors that impact accessibility like the site, ground conditions, structures and hygiene are currently available on the central Profound Decisions website. This page deals specifically with the efforts we are making to make the plot we run more accessible.

What is a plot?

For the purposes of this document we can consider a “plot” at Empire to be a series of encounters, activities or events instigated by Profound Decisions, and designed to increase roleplaying opportunities on the field.

The way Profound Decisions generated plot reaches its players at Empire is broadly (although not exhaustively) covered by the list below

  • Opportunities generated by winds of war and winds of fortune which are available via the wiki to be read in advance of events, and give players topics to discuss, have opinions on and mobilise actions in one of the political bodies of the Empire
  • Letters or other documents sent directly to players, either placed in the character's pack alongside their resources or delivered in the field either because they have engaged with NPCs, made a political statement, or have something in their resources choices, skill picks, titles or background information about the character that relates to a piece of plot being launched in game
  • NPCs (non player characters) who come to the field at Anvil, bringing with them goals, opinions, tasks and challenges. Sometimes these are announced in advance by one of the above methods, sometimes they are the first sign something is going on
  • The military campaign, where information is delivered primarily through the Imperial Military Council and the above mentioned winds of war
  • Activities which take place “off Anvil”, either through the Sentinel Gate or the Hall of Worlds. This includes battles, skirmishes, and encounters. For encounters, some are set in field or woodland locations, some within a set of tents we call “encounter tents”. These can be discovered through any of the above methods, or from the egregores.

This page has a particular focus on the last of these plot types, but will touch on some of the others.

Information and Support

Because access needs are individual, there is no such thing at Empire as an “accessible plot”. Instead we are aiming to consider and be able to provide a much wider range of information about access features of each of our plots (particularly, but not only, those which take place via the Hall of Worlds or the Sentinel Gate) and make it known that this information is available for all players to make decisions about what will be accessible to them.

The information we provide is limited to the things that we, as game organisers control, other players actions may sometimes - especially in relation to combat - create additional accessibility issues.

Who and how to ask?

Anyone may ask a referee, egregore or member of the GOD team for accessibility information about a plot line, at any time (including, but not limited to, when carrying out an in-character conjunction check). You do not need to use the magician skill of detect magic, and you do not need to explain anything about your reasons for asking so long as it is for out of character purposes.

You will need to have a good way of describing the plot you are interested in so that the person assisting you is able to find the information. The kind of things that will help us identify a plot are listed below in descending order - the most effective ways are listed first.

  • Any details about a conjunction such as time or location
  • A ribboned item linked to the plot
  • The name of a specific NPC you have interacted with
  • The title of a wind of fortune or wind of war related to the plot
  • A general description of events that have happened so far

Questions about a specific plot

There are a number of questions you can ask about a plot you are engaged with or considering engaging with, including, but not limited to:

  • Where on the site an activity is going to take place
  • When an activity is going to take place
  • What intensity of combat is expected
  • What light levels you can expect
  • Whether there will be documents to read
  • Whether the whole activity is wheelchair accessible
  • Whether seating is available
  • Whether the activity has any phobia warnings listed against it
  • Any other questions that relate to your specific access needs
  • Whether a high degree of word/maths or logic reasoning or motor control is needed for puzzles

It is important to note that we will do our best to have the answers for these questions ready, but we won’t always have all answers in advance, so there may be a delay whilst we check something if we can’t answer immediately, especially if it relates to a need that we have not considered.

The questions best fit with plots that take place “off Anvil”, but might also apply to an audience with an eternal in the Hall of Worlds, or a planned delegation visit to the Hub, for example.

Getting Help Accessing Plots

You may also ask your egregore for help accessing ongoing plots that you are pursuing or are involved with. They will be able to give you some advice on existing plots - and also feed back to the writers on the kind of changes or improvements that would make a plot more accessible. For example “I’d like to be involved with the negotiations with the Jotun but I can't easily walk more than a few hundred yards” is the sort of guidance that we will try to incorporate into our planning to make an encounter responsive to an individual's needs.

Getting Help Accessing GOD

Although not usually relevant for plot, please note that we now operate a system where you can nominate another player to handle any GOD admin for you. Anybody who has mobility challenges that make accessing GOD difficult for any reason can nominate another player to sort their stuff in GOD for them. Just email us - and let us know who your nominated contact is. We'll make a record of that on the system so that we can check it if we ever need to.

We'll print the number on your pack - so that your friend can collect your pack for you quickly and easily. But they can also access GOD for any reason on your behalf. So they can mix and collect potions, sort ribbons, whatever. If you need anything from GOD - we'll just treat them as if they were asking on your behalf.

Asking For A Change

It is absolutely acceptable to ask for a change to an encounter to enable you to attend it. We have moved outside encounters inside, changed lighting levels, changed times; and will make every effort to adjust an encounter for someone who is closely following a plot, if we discover their access needs in time. Egregores, referees or GOD can help you organise this. It will not always be possible, especially as sometimes different needs conflict, but if we can accommodate a change we will.

For the moment, it will be left up to the refs and plot teams to decide what can be offered on a case-by-case basis. We’ll pay attention to how well we are doing at meeting these requests, and implement a more rigid protocol if we are not doing well.

Moving the Regio

If you are looking to do a ritual that uses the regio but any of members of your ritual team would find the distance to the regio a significant problem, then you may arrange with a referee or with GOD to do the ritual elsewhere. We can ref the ritual at any suitable location that doesn't pose a problem. We can't move the props or the sound FX system or any of the regio equipment - but a referee can come to your camp or to an appropriate location and treat that as the regio if that is needed.

The problem with having to ask

We are aware that asking for information and help is a form of labour that can be draining for anyone, and that people with access needs have to carry out more often than other people, and that therefore this is an imperfect solution. However we hope that by being explicit about the fact that we expect these questions to be asked, and are looking forward to responding and helping as much as we can, we reduce that burden somewhat. We will also aim to find more ways to make information explicit in advance (e.g. in such things as Winds of Fortune) in order to reduce the number of occasions where asking is necessary.

Acknowledging disablism (also called structural ableism)

We recognise that festival LRP reflects some of the wider disablism of our society. We also acknowledge that this is particularly true of Empire LRP because core elements of the game design are intended to test the skills of the player, not the character. Inevitably that approach creates additional accessibility challenges that add to the overall impact of disablism rather than reducing it.

The goal of our plot-writing is not to circumvent the game but rather to identify the problems for our participants which are not part of the game design. The more of these problems that we can successfully resolve or mitigate then the more people will be able to participate in and enjoy multiple aspects of the event.

We welcome feedback on the steps we have taken so far, and on those areas of the game where we could do more.

Combat

We want to be very clear that activities without combat, and accessible activities are NOT one and the same thing. We have designed a system for discussing combat which we hope will help players make their own informed choices about whether a battle, skirmish or quest is suitable for them, especially when combined with the information we offer about location.

What is a Non-combatant?

Some confusion arises because the term “non-combatant” can mean many different things to different people. To avoid this causing confusion, at Empire we avoid this term and isntead use the following apprach:

Characters Who Do Not Fight

This is the most common meaning of the term “non combatant” and it tells us nothing about the access needs of the player. People playing "characters who do not fight" may go on battles, skirmishes, quests and encounters. They risk their character when they do so, and may be hit, or need to run away.

The “Non-Contact” Gesture

The non contact gesture means putting your hand in the air. If you do this then your character falls to 0 hits, and all other players should avoid hitting you if they possibly can. PD cannot guarantee that you will not be hit, but every effort will be made to avoid doing so by those around you.

Fight Classificiations and the “Non-Contact” Gesture

At Empire, our off Anvil encounters will be marked as:

  • Combat Highly Likely
  • Combat Possible
  • Combat Contained
  • Combat Highly Unlikely

These designations each have a different description about the likelihood (not severity) and containment of fighting, the conclusions we make about the risks of using the gesture, and how you should use the classifications to assess whether the experience fits your needs.

Combat Highly Likely

No one should go on a battle, skirmish or encounter that is marked as “combat highly likely” if it is likely to be important to their safety to be able to use the “non-contact” gesture successfully. The level of combat planned for these types of activity is high and there is a high chance that those around might not see the gesture in time to avoid hitting someone. Those players wishing not to fight, and neither prepared or able to flee or take hits if a fight breaks out near them should not go on battles, skirmishes or quests marked combat highly likely.

The non-contact gesture can still be used by anyone if they find themselves injured, panicked or in a situation where they can use the gesture to make themselves safe and avoid escalating to the point of needing a MAN DOWN call.

Combat Possible

It is acceptable to go on an encounter marked combat possible if you plan to use the non-contact gesture. However players should be aware that the likelihood of a fight breaking out near them will be higher than in Anvil. The risk of being hit because someone didn’t see the gesture is also higher than it would be in Anvil. It also follows that bleeding out and losing the character as a result of using the gesture are also far higher than in Anvil, so you will be risking your in-character safety in the same way that combat characters will.

If you choose to go on a quest marked combat possible with the intention of using the non-contact gesture then you need to be prepared for both the in-character and out-of-character dangers.

Combat Highly Unlikely

An encounter marked as combat highly unlikely indicates either combat is as unlikely as it is at Anvil or it has been planned to take place in a contained location (usually inside a fighting pit or outside an area with certain types of warding) so that characters should be able to take simple in-character steps to avoid it. These encounters allow the use of the non-contact gesture with similar risks and effectiveness to being in Anvil.

Provided the in-character instructions are followed, it should be perfectly possible to go on the encounter and avoid any crew initiated combat which takes place during it.

Players

  • Our categories refer to expected actions by our crew and/or player monsters only

It is important to remember that a player may instigate combat in Anvil or on any encounter - either against the enemy or against other player characters. The categories we assign cannot account for player actions which are beyond our control.

The Level Of In-Character Danger

It is important to understand that the information we provided is intended to help each individual player decide whether an activity is suitable to their access needs. If a fight breaks out on a “combat possible” encounter then it could easily be as intense or dangerous as the fighting on a “combat highly likely” encounter. Likewise a “combat contained” encounter might involve the use of venom or curse calls that make it as dangerous for the characters that enter the location of the fight as any other quest.

Criticising How Others Behave On A Quest

It is not appropriate to make out-of-character complaints about how other players on a quest have behaved in relation to whether they decide to fight or not. It is perfectly acceptable, and within the letter and spirit of the Profound Decision rules, to go on a combat highly likely encounter and then roleplay in such a way that the combat does not happen. Our game is about making exactly these kind of decision, we run plot, we don't run fights.

It is equally acceptable to start a fight where one did not seem likely or necessary or to criticise any attempt or action that changes the way an encounter plays out - provided that the basis for the criticism is clearly the in-character decisions made and the in-character consequences. The emphasis should be always be on the in-character reasons for participating in an encounter and the only person who can decide if they are out-of-character suitable for a quest is the player themself.

What is not acceptable is to tell any player that “they should have gone on a non-combat quest instead”. Such things do not exist, such sentiments violate our equality and diversity policy and run counter to the spirit of our entire game. Equally this means that there are no purely "accessible" or "non-combat" quests that are designated or intended solely for non combat players or those with access needs.

If you feel someone is criticising your choices as a player rather than as a character, you can choose to handle it in several different ways, which might include any combination of the following:

  • Disengaging from the situation, and asking another player, a referee, Egregore or member of our Conduct team to have a word with the other player. They can use guidance from this page which discusses the best way to challenge behaviour which breaks the Equality and Diversity part of our social contract
  • Briefly pausing and challenging the behaviour yourself. Again the guidance on challenging behaviour may be helpful, or you could use a phrase such as: “under the game rules, there are no such thing as non-combat quests” or “this feels to me like you are attacking me for my impact on your fun OOC rather than criticising my character actions in an IC way, could we stop the discussion or approach it differently please”
  • Choosing to ignore the OOC element of what they are saying and meeting it resolutely IC, if it is your preference to avoid a further break in immersion. For example:
    • “Yes, I bargained with the troops’ leader instead of charging in - I judged it best.”
    • “If you didn’t think it was a good idea, why didn’t you bring it up at the time?”
    • “I saw a situation and acted. Don’t blame me for what you didn’t do.”
    • “I resolved the situation, and no-one was hurt. I don’t see the problem.”

Distance

Location, Terrain and Movement

Every encounter that is planned to take place off Anvil will always have a location specified for it. This information will tell you where the encounter is located, which could be an encounter tent, the field or the woods. This gives you the first sense of distance and terrain.

In general (though poor weather may affect this) the terrain is as follows

  • Woodland - Can be difficult underfoot with rough terrain, tangled undergrowth, ditches and other obstacles, whether free-ranging or limited.
  • Field - Ground is uneven, especially in some parts with obstacles and some trip hazards.
  • Encounter Tent - Flat ground on a slight inclination; will not normally include obstacles.

In addition where possible we will classify an encounter that takes place off Anvil to describe movement in the location:

  • Free-ranging - You need to be able to roam the area to fully participate in this encounter
  • Limited area – distant - You will need to travel a considerable distance to get to the start of the encounter, but once started it is designed to take place in a reasonably contained area
  • Limited area – mid-way - You will need to travel a couple of hundred yards to the start of the encounter, but once started it is designed to take place in a reasonably contained area
  • Limited area – close - This quest takes place in a limited area in the part of the field closest to the Sentinel Gate

Free-ranging quests on the field may run into areas with similarly rough terrain in between the open grass. Limited area quests on a field will focus on an area with relatively clear movement, but depending on player choices may sometimes move into areas with tangled undergrowth or fallen logs. The “limited area - close” location is similar terrain to the ground in Anvil, but with longer grass

Skipping the Sentinel Gate

If you are heading to an encounter tent activity, and would find the distance of heading to the Sentinel Gate first a problem, then you may ask the other players going with you to tell the ref or plot writer at the gate that you should be collected from GOD. Crew members who are collecting people for Encounter tent activities will ask the group if they have anyone waiting at GOD, when they tell them the gate is ready to be used, but if possible speak to a member of the crew when you enter GOD and ask them to radio the plot team to ensure that we are definitely aware that you are there for the quest.

This system relies heavily on unified player parties, and puts a lot of onus on one player having to ask other players to support them. We are aware of this, and looking to see firstly, whether it helps in this form, and then whether we can make other improvements in the future.

Documents

In game documents

We are aware that that low light levels and IC fonts can prove difficult to read. We are also aware that even for a single condition such as dyslexia, there is no standardised solution which increases readability for everyone, and whilst there are standard sizes with large print, for some conditions affecting vision, larger print is actually harder to read.

We are moving towards a standard whereby most in-character documentation produced by the plot team will be issued in a clear simple serif or plain handwriting fonts which should make them more accessible to more players.

Sometimes the plot writers produce documentation whose value as a prop is more important than the information contained within it. Whilst we will aim to consider readability, these props may feature ageing, smaller text, fancy calligraphy or actual handwriting which will make the documents harder to read.

We appreciate that it seems like it should be easy to offer large print options either on request, or attached to every document. For a wide range of reasons this is not as simple as it might seem. However we are exploring other things we may do to improve options around accessible documentation in future.

Pre-event documents

A large amount of written information is made available prior to events, with information about plot-lines that characters can discuss and act upon in the field. Focusing specifically on the documents that change every event - the winds of war and winds of fortune - we know that this can be an accessibility issue.

Currently, to make this more accessible we do the following:

  • Detailed IC accounts are separated visually from factual summaries so that people can decide how much written information they want to access
  • Overview pages offer a couple of sentences summarising all the content so that people can choose which to read further
  • Taking steps to make the information available further in advance of each event, in order to give a longer reading time

We are also grateful to player produced audio versions of the documents, which offer a different way to absorb the information, and will, over the course of 2018, be trying to ensure that these are more consistently available.

Timings

Late Night Encounters

We are aware that plot that takes place late in the evening may exclude some players. It has been suggested that plot encounters should stop at 10pm in the evening in order to avoid this exclusion. Unfortunately, this limits too heavily the overall quantity of plot we are able to run, especially in our woodland, field and encounter tent locations, and in key spaces in Anvil. Due to NPC numbers and planning, it could also limit how many plots of any kind we are able to run.

If you are heavily engaged in a plot and discover that something is due to happen late at night in a way that will exclude you, please let us know via your egregore or GOD, and we will see if we can do anything to either change the scheduling or offer other related opportunities at times that work for you. It may not always be possible, but it is always worth asking.

Catching an NPC

We know that one of the biggest access issues of Empire is the size of the field, and the fact that much of the political game is carried out by walking from meeting to meeting.

We know that there is also a perception that our NPC’s appear at significant locations such as the Hall of Worlds or the Hub, and opportunities to talk to them are gained by the people who are most able to be checking those places frequently. Additionally, the scarcity of opportunities to interact with NPC’s can favour those who find it easiest to be alert and/or functioning at their best at a moments notice. We believe there is some truth in that perception and are working to change it:

These are the things that are already in place:

  • NPC’s are usually given a brief which discourages them from speaking with “the people who are nearest” - they may actually be looking for a named character, or they may be told to go and “find Grimnir in Wintermark” or “Wise ones in Varushka” or “Monster Hunters in Dawn” - so the frequency with which they engage only with the people at the location where they arrive on the field is decreasing, to the point where we aim for it to become a rarity
  • We have explored a method of plot delivery which is best described as “have your name and most common location placed in a box if you’d like this type of NPC to visit you” - communicated via winds of fortune. This was successful in terms of high levels of engagement, though challenging in crew time to follow up. We will probably do more of this, although recognise that as an IC solution, it may not suit some characterisations.
  • When someone is engaged in a plot, NPCs often give them ritual tokens, or agree to pay message costs for them to notify us of suitable times for an NPC to come to them. Alternatively we might notify them of a time via a letter to initiate a plot, and ask them to send a message if that time is not convenient. Again, this in-character method will not suit everyone, it is perfectly acceptable to ask an egregore to discuss a change of time of an NPC visit instead if the change is needed for access reasons.
  • If we have been targeting plot at a person or group, and they are not available on the field, when an NPC goes looking for them without a pre-arranged appointment, the NPC will usually aim to work out why that is (are they doing something in-character where they can’t be disturbed or are they meeting their out-of-character needs) if the reasons is out-of-character, the NPC will usually return at another time, sometimes at a future event.

We know that even with these elements in place, Anvil can be daunting to face for people with either fatigue or mobility issues, so we will also explore other things we can do in the future.

Acknowledgement

This document was developed by volunteers for Profound Decisions: Kat Quatermass led the project with support from the plot, battle and ref teams. Consultancy was provided by Robin Tynan of Access LRP. We are grateful for the advice given, this work would bigger gaps without it. We also acknowledge that there are some areas where we haven’t been able to move as far/fast as the advice recommended, but we intend to continue to try and improve levels of accessibility over time where possible.