We have overhauled the design and function of the Conclave to try and improve the game experience of interacting with it. This page presents the thinking that underpins the new design.
The core goal for the Conclave is to capture the feel of the classic fantasy trope of a body of political magicians - a recurrent theme in literature like Feists' Magician or Trudi Canavan's Black Magician novels. The concept of powerful wizards arguing over the dispensation and control of the forces of magic ought to present countless opportunities for interactions and plot.
The inherent flaw in this conceptual picture is that meetings - of magicians or indeed anyone else - are usually more enjoyable in literature than they are when roleplayed out. At their best they can be tense dramatic political scenes, at their worst they drag on interminably with little if anything actually decided. The challenge is to make every member of the Conclave feel involved and enabled while preventing sessions degenerating into a talking-shop. This trade-off is particularly acute in the Conclave because there are literally hundreds of magicians in the game - the design for the Conclave needs to try to involve all of those players - by ensuring it is fun for so many players to be involved.
When reviewing the Conclave our starting point was that there were two possible models for a political house. It could be en elective body where the player-base exercise power by choosing who would be part of the body - and by their interactions with those who are part of the body. The Senate, the Military Council and the Bourse all work this way - albeit in very different ways. The alternative is a representative body - one where everyone who wishes to be part of the body can partake personally. The Synod works like this - but it was brilliantly designed by Daniel Williams to function with so many members.
We feel that the fundamental goal for the Conclave - indeed the implication of the very name - is that it should be a representative body - one in which all magicians can take part and wield power directly - not one that elects individuals to do that. To do that and remain enjoyable and dramatic the design for the Conclave needed to rival that of the Synod - whilst remaining as distinctive as possible.
The Price of Words
The previous design concentrated its focus on voting - allowing only a few characters to wield power directly in the Conclave. To counter this lack of individual participation, players had extended the rules to allow everyone to talk. The patch and the flawed design produced a Conclave that left players feeling disenfranchised - because they couldn't influence the outcome directly - but meant that meetings ran on for hours as the political issues were debated.
In a social situation - where characters are meeting to discuss something - talking is expensive. The more talk that takes place, the more frustrated most players become as the meeting inevitably begins to drag. The blunt truth is that we like to talk more than we like to listen. We had identified this problem very early on in the design of Empire - which is why locations like the Senate use an NPC chair to keep meetings on message and on time. But that approach could not work in the Conclave - not with the potential for hundreds of characters all wanting to speak on every subject.
Re-examining the situation it was clear the original design was poor. The Conclave rules in play restricted the thing that was relatively easy to scale to hundreds of players (voting) but didn't restrict the thing which does not scale well (talking). The polar-opposite design - one where the power to talk was as expensive IC as it is OOC (in terms of the impact on other player's enjoyment), but voting was open to everyone present - is a significant change but one we believe will make the Conclave a more dramatic and exciting place to lock horns with your fellow mages.
The Price of Peace
To an extent we have already seen that begin to happen with the dramatic conflict between the Synod and the Senate in the final event of the first year. But the game is designed so that players can gravitate towards the elements of the game that best fit what they enjoy. Political strife will always be rare in the Military Council - it is at the coal face of the war with the barbarians. Players who like a very directed, unified engagement with a clear external enemy to fight against are much more likely to find that in the Military Council than anywhere else in the game.
But the Conclave - a body of magicians many of whom will never take the battlefield should be the opposite end of the spectrum. This is the place to go if face-to-face battles with a horde of barbarians is really not your thing. Of course we would still expect players to make all the usual arguments about the good of the Empire - but our hope was that the countervailing instinct - the selfish instinct to advance your own position would provide a platform for some great political infighting.
Going over the design again we realized that this hadn't happened in the Conclave as much as we had hoped in the first year because we had fundamentally blocked the avenues to advancement and inadvertently placed massive emphasis on the good of the Empire. The members of the Conclave orders had to cooperate to elect a grandmaster - then the grandmasters had to cooperate to elect the archmages. Then the archmages had to cooperate to spend the Conclave's money. It's difficult to imagine a set-up that could have a stronger emphasis on cooperation and the good of all.
Like the change to voting, the new design is a significant change to the existing set-up - but it provides vastly more support for individual and collective advancement. The orders are set-up to have a political agenda - by giving them control of the Conclave's resources - we make it easier to direct those resources towards those goals. Previously the Conclave resources were split equally between the archmages - now they are allocated to the orders based on their size - the better to make clear that each order appreciates that this is their mana to use for their goals.
There are other more minor changes that lie alongside this one, but they all build on this common goal - to make the orders feel like their Conclave vault belongs to them - that it is theirs to use as they see fit. The hoped for outcome is that gambits become a hell of a lot less consensual - that cooperation becomes something that is difficult for the orders to achieve - not something that is expected. There will be plenty of players calling for the orders to put aside their differences for the good of the Empire of course, but with the new design for the Conclave that should suddenly become an awful lot harder to achieve - and thereby produce a more enjoyable game for those involved.
Of Mice and Mages
Our ideal Conclave should have two identities - one is political, a Conclave in which the orders circle each other looking for political advantage and power. In this world positions like archmage are playing pieces on the board. The more archmages an order controls, the easier it is for them to dominate the political landscape of the Conclave. The changes to voting, to the gambits and the grandmasters are all designed to help support this.
But the Conclave has another identity - this is a meeting of magicians. There are six great realms of magic, with mysteries to be unravelled, challenges to be overcome and powers to be mastered. We want the magicians of the Conclave to take an interest in the magic of the setting - and the natural figures for that to happen are the archmages. The previous design had them as deeply political figures - the redesign exchanges that political power for increased mastery of magic - in particular of abilities that allow them to cooperate with ritualists throughout the realms. The ability to raise gambits is primarily limited to archmages precisely so that they can emphasize the magical identity of the Conclave - to balance the political identity of the orders.
Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!
The design of combat magic in Empire deliberately prioritized one core design principle. We wanted magic to be important - but we wanted the best possible fighter in a fight... to be a fighter... There are many different ways to build a LRP game, but the Ad&d historical approach in which magic utterly eclipses fighting - but the fighter has better endurance - was definitely not what we wanted in Empire.
It is also, observably difficult to build a magic system that makes casting magic at your enemies look cool and immersive to other participants. It is rare to find an author that can make a magical duel enjoyable to read in literature - where they can do anything - it is far more difficult to make flinging spells awesome in a live roleplaying game. Empire's primary approach to this problem is to deliver combat magic spells with rods and staffs - to allow the participants to feel the blow and respond naturally. But whatever the approach used, it is almost inevitably that watching a dozen warriors duel will always be more immersive and engrossing than watching a dozen mages shouting at each other - a contest that is often decided by how fast you can gable you can spit out your spell vocals.
If we had designed a magic system that meant that wizards could tear warriors apart on a battlefield - the contest might still have been somewhat underwhelming for participants and onlookers - because of the limitations on magic in a fest LRP system. In fact, given the dominance of the armoured warrior on the battlefield it was inevitable that the contest would be dominated by warriors.... not wizards. Absent any political powers in the Conclave - or in fact any discernible relationship with the Conclave - it was inevitable that the role would effectively become a martial contest to put a champion on the Military Council. There is nothing wrong with that conceptually - but it falls short of the influence and authority that we wanted for the warmage.
The new role is a political appointment by the Conclave - and thus is much more clearly a part of the Conclave. Uniquely, the title grants power in the Military Council and in the Conclave. We hope that future warmages will find many ways to utilize that advantage to benefit both houses... and themselves.
WizardCivil Servant Did It
We've updated this as a few players have asked us to provide some kind of IC explanation for the change, so we've done as requested.
The official explanation for this change (and a few other minor changes to things like Bourse auction methods) is that it is always done the old way in the first year following a "Time of Emergency" and then automatically reverts to the standard method after one year.
The time of emergency was what happened in the first year following the death of Empress Britta and most of the Empire's finest who died with her. This was why every senator at the first event was having to be elected and so on - it was the rules following a time of emergency when basically everyone who was running the Empire is dead. The explanation is that the Civil Servants have one set of rules to use when running the Empire in the year that follows the declaration of emergency - and then they revert to the standard rules (the ones now on the wiki).
Obviously this is a figleaf justification, we are not attempting to claim that this is a seamless elegant solution, but hopefully it will help to minimize the impact of the changes for individual players - allowing them to roleplay that what happened has happened. It isn't particularly helpful to postulate that individual civil servants are somehow engaged in some kind of conspiracy to control the Empire; this isn't some kind of actual plot you can interact with - it's a justification by PD for the changes we are making to the game to make it better for everyone playing it.
The Perils of Fair Play
There are a few risks with the new design for the Conclave. One is that players will continue to put aside all differences and self-interest and denude the game of ooc enjoyable political intrigue and conflict in favour of united action against the barbarians. We believe we've done everything possible to mitigate that threat. There are simple but very powerful elements in the design - like the ability of the orders to purchase crystal mana to add to their vaults - which should massively reinforce the ideal presented in the setting. It's not the Empire's mana... it's your mana...
But there is another more fundamental risk - the dark shadow of fair play that looms over the new Conclave design. The idea that it costs mana to talk in the Conclave is central to the whole design. It means that the orders have to expend resources to try and sway each other in session, so it gives costs to manoeuvres on the political battleground. But critically it is essential to have this in place if the meetings are not to run for hours and hours - far beyond the endurance of even the most political live roleplayer. For the Conclave to be fun - the rules on talking at a Session will have to be strictly enforced. Our civil servants can do that... but only to a point... without buy-in from the players it just won't work.
The risk is that players feel that the rules simply aren't fair. There is a natural egalitarian spirit in most live-roleplayers - we all want each other to enjoy the event. We all want each other to be involved and have a good time. So naturally - if a fellow live roleplayer wants to say something, the natural instinct is to let him speak. That's "fair". What does not seem fair - is to make him pay for the privilege and then shout him off stage the moment his minute is up.
Economists call this the tragedy of the commons. The forbearance of the players is our "commons" - the longer any individual talks, the more individuals who stand up and talk - the more the patience of the collective will of the assembled players is consumed. But that is hard for anyone in the room to see - what is clear to see is the benefit being enjoyed by the player who gets up to speak. The net result is that allowing players to speak without paying mana - allowing players to speak after their time is up - makes the game more enjoyable for that player - but makes the game a tiny bit less enjoyable for every other player in the tent. By prioritizing the individual over the collective good of everyone present - by being "fair" - the players are actually being unfair to themselves and to everyone else present.
We hope that the players will grab the Principle of Proportions and embrace it with both hands. When a magician tries to remain talking after his sands are run out, please - shout him down - heckle her off stage. When a character has paid to talk, we hope that players will take that moment to be "fair" to them and let them speak (a few shouts of "shame" at appropriate moments are to expected!). But when a player tries to break the Conclave rules (and trying will be fun too!), then that is the moment to be "fair" to everyone. A loud chant of "Mana! Mana!" until they pay up or cede the floor may seem harsh - but it will actually make the game more fair - and more enjoyable - for everyone who wants to take part in the Conclave.
- Conclave session
- Conclave order