Overview

Over winter of 2015/2016 we carried out a review of the rules from the third year of Empire. As a result of that review we implemented some changes to the published rules. This page summarizes and explains the changes so that players can identify and understand the changes easily.

We try to include a section after each rules update to explain the reasoning behind the change.

Varushkan Elections

With a heavy heart we've taken the decision to change the rules for Varushkan elections. We have subtly but significantly altered the election method and changed the wiki accordingly. From this event onwards, candidates for the position of senator will be questioned by children - but will give their answers in front of the council of wise ones. This means that the wise ones will know exactly who the candidates are when making their choice.

Reasoning

The original idea we implemented - a blind selection process - was quirky and full of character but was deeply flawed. It has produced some fantastic senators - especially recently - but it was clear to us that ultimately this benefit was at the cost of the kind of political game that other nations were enjoying over who would be senator. Politics - the election of senators - the link between the senators and the characters who support them - is a key part of the Empire game that is designed to produce a lot of roleplaying and interaction on the field.

In changing the election method we were keen to maintain some core ideas - such as the involvement of the wise ones in determining the outcome rather than the boyars. We wanted a process that highlights Varushkan themes, the innocence of children, the strength of maturity and the wisdom of age and experience.

Obviously the new election method will be much more political than the previous one - many candidates will be chosen on the basis of their support and influence. However we hope that the polite fiction that the quality of their answers before the wise ones council is important will ensure that the answers remain important - that enough independent wise ones allow themselves to be influenced by the quality of the roleplaying during the election that it genuinely affects the outcome.

IC Explanation

The basis for the elections for any nation is drawn from the Imperial Constitution which states that each territory "will elect a single senator to participate in the Senate, according to the traditions of the nation that claims it". The legal application of this is that the civil service consult the egregore - the magical embodiment of the nation's traditions - and the egregore tells them what the nation consider to be appropriate. Therefore - the IC explanation for this change is that the egregore has informed the civil service that Varushka should revert to a much older tradition for their elections - one which did not include an element of blind selection.

It is very important to stress the difference between the nature of this decision - which is fundamentally an OOC game design taken by Profound Decisions - and the nature of the IC explanation. The egregore has not chosen to make this decision - instead they have recognized the slowly changing traditions of the Varushkan people. This is not a question of what any individual character wants - it is a question of the national mood - of what ultimately feels like the right tradition to the entire Varushkan nation. Egregores cannot be persuaded to change the elections, their IC role is to identify the preferred tradition of the nation (reflecting the decision taken by PD) not to select it.

Please do not hector your egregore to change the election method for your nation - if you must hector someone then talk to me by email. I'm always happy to discuss any part of the game with any player at any sensible time. The only way you can possibly change the election system of a nation is by convincing me that it will make significantly better game if it is changed - it is IC and OOC useless to try to persuade your egregore to change your political system.

Liao

  • PD phys-reps of liao will remain valid until the end of the Winter Solstice 2017
  • Phys-reps can be exchanged at GOD, handed in in packs, or used in ceremonies until the end of Winter Solstice 2017

Although the PD provided phys-reps for liao are a cool aspect of Empire, there are significant issues using them for self-reffing activities - notably it is not possible to destroy the phys-rep in the same way that can be done with a mana crystal. There are also logistical problems involved in using large amounts of liao - for example in response to Winds of Fortune events. As a result we have long considered the option of moving from using PD provided phys-reps for liao to use PD provided cards.

Part of our reasons for the rules changes to religion was to increase the range of activities that priests could do without needing to find a referee, and we had originally planned to address the issue of destroying the phys-rep by having additional anointing oil cards that players could use rather than the liao phys-rep. However it became clear in production that this option simply would not work - it was not possible to produce a sensible sized card which still had all the rules on it. There were also other issues with anointing oil - notably a concern that it would not solve the fundamental problem because players would not be keen to commit their liao to this use in advance.

As a result we have taken the decision to carry out the planned switch to liao cards at the forthcoming Summer Solstice Empire event. Players will receive these cards in their packs in place of the small phys-rep bottles that were supplied previously. They can be used for any activity that requires liao - and should be ripped on use or handed to a referee - just as you would do with a mana crystal.

Implementation

  • PD phys-reps of liao will remain valid until the end of the Winter Solstice 2017
  • The phys-reps can be traded in GOD at any point up to this time

The old phys-reps for liao will remain valid until the end of the first event of 2017. Any player who has an existing stock of liao may bring them to GOD and exchange them for an equal number of the new cards. Players may also hand liao phys-reps in in their pack and have it credited to their account - it will be returned to them as cards at the next event they attend.

After the first event of 2017, the bottles will no longer be valid game items not can they be exchanged. Any remaining bottles will be treated as a phys-rep for liao - not as the liao itself - after this time.

Religion

Anointing
Dedication
Excommunication
Exorcism
Hallow
Insight
Testimony

We have finally completed a major overhaul of the religion rules for Empire. We have made significant changes to the rules for all the religious skills. Players who possess one or more of the religious skills are advised to read the pages linked in the table to the right to understand how the skills will now work:

In addition to the changes to the skills, we have also made some significant changes to the auras produced by the skills for each virtue. The new rules are on the page for auras along with links to the auras available for each virtue.

Reasoning

The religious game in Empire is fairly unusual for a live roleplaying game in having a focus on roleplaying effects rather than clerical magic that produces game benefits. Because this approach was fairly novel we did not have much experience to draw on when creating this part of the game at the outset - and so many of the ideas employed were new and untested. Although they have stood the test of time remarkably well over the four years since we launched the game, the lessons drawn from seeing them used in play made it clear that the design could be improved on.

One of the most immediate problems was the confusion over which auras allowed players to resist roleplaying effects. There was no guidance under the old rules - rather players were judging the resilience provided by different auras based on the wording of the feelings they produced. While this was workable, it encouraged players to choose auras based on the flavour that appeared to provide the most effective defense rather than the roleplaying effect that was best suited for their character.

The purely subjective element also made it impossible for a large ref team to apply effects consistently. From the number of errors made on our part while ruling on the interaction between roleplaying effects it was clear that not even we could convincingly work out which auras should help characters in a given situation, let alone the players. We decided to shift to a system that set different roleplaying effects on the same level playing field, rather than having any one anointing or hallow aura be better than the others. This dramatically simplifies the actual rules - and keeps the focus on choosing a roleplaying effect is on the roleplaying - not the effect.

In editing the auras we were also able to tighten up the language considerably (everything is improved with editing!) and also strengthen the emphasis on action which is at the core of Imperial religion. The exception to this approach was the changes to consecrations - where we tried to emphasize a social or contemplative response rather than immediate action. We wanted players to enjoy roleplaying being in a consecration - not immediately rush to leave the area!

There were a number of important changes we wanted to make to the skills. One improvement identified early on was to look at ways to reduce the requirement for a referee to be involved in every single ceremony. In the end most ceremonies still require the use of a referee, but we were able to introduce some new options for anointing that will allow priests to perform an anointing without the need for a referee. We were also able to introduce an option for insight to allow the skill to be used without a ref present.

Another essential change identified was to change the way auras were removed using ceremonial skills. Previously, excommunication, testimony and other auras could all be removed by exorcism. This made exorcism the solution to all spiritual problems - that led to it being one of the most popular priest skills by far - and that led to a situation where any negative aura - like an excommunication - would always be far easier to remove than to put on (because there were far more exorcists in the game than priests with excommunicate). As less characters than we would have liked were bothering to perform more powerful ceremonies - there was little point if it was easier to remove than to put on.

By making the skill required to apply an aura be the same skill required to remove an aura, we restored a much better game balance between the skills - and improved the game benefits of stronger auras. To keep exorcism in line with other 1pt skills, we included the ability to exorcise magical spirits from the realms possessing objects and corpses as well as roaming spirits from the Labyrinth and those possessing objects or people. The exorcism skill is now firmly focused on exorcism with each of the skills for creating auras now able to remove the effects they create.

The continuing improvements in our event logistics meant that some changes could be made to skills like hallow that could not have been supported when the game was created. The wifi tablets all the refs are equipped with mean that any ref can now process a ceremony from any point in the field ready to collect at GOD by the time the player gets there. That improvement meant we could allow hallow effects to be more visible, more prominent - and not reliant on the magic of a bond. It also meant that we could unify the rules for plot items with spiritual auras on them (named items with the effects written on the ribbons) with the rules for similar items created by the players.

We have also changed the advantages provided by sects. We abandoned the mechanical benefits of allowing sects to create strong auras for free; this tended to reduce the pressure on supplies of liao (and hence the value) and made powerful auras seem less significant. Instead we opted to allow any member of a sect to cooperate together, regardless of virtue. This made sects more akin to the way covens work for rituals (in the sense that a powerful ritual is a rare and impressive thing) but crucially it meant that sects provided a significant roleplaying advantage - allowing a group of priests to work effectively together as a coherent band - yet follow different virtues.

As ever in a planned rules change we identified some things that needed nerfing. The Banner of the Bold was overwhelmingly the simplest way to render a large group of warriors immune to harmful roleplaying effects - particularly fear. This deeply undermined the important role that priests were meant to play in this area - but also overshadowed other options like hero points and the Circlet of Falling Snow. We looked at a number of ways to fix the problem with this magical item - and in the end we decided that the focus of magical standards was wrong. If a player is going to go to the effort of lugging a large phys-rep banner on to the battlefield to make the entire battle experience better for everyone around them - they should get the benefits of the magic - not everyone else! We've updated the Banner of the Bold accordingly and put a note to review the other magical standards over winter when we have time.

Some changes came very late in the process and were not part of the original design concepts for the overview at all. We were fortune enough to get really fantastic feedback from a handful of players that we showed early editions of the changes to that really helped us improve the overhaul. From one player's feedback we able to see a role for the anointing auras that created lucid dreams that we had not previously identified. Once we understood the role they could play in the game - it was simply a case of finding the right place for them - and the eventual idea that priests with dedication could use liao to cause particularly lucid dreams meant that we could keep improve dedication (especially for priests of the Way), keep clear consistent effects for personal auras created by anointing, and have a new consistency with true liao and the need for a guide priests to have the dedication skill.

There is still a considerable amount of work to do to update various items and rituals to make them compatible with the new rules. Some of that will take place over this event and next - but over winter we hope to sit down and look at reliquaries and other religious magic items and see if we can't produce similar significant improvements. As ever we'll update the wiki - and the latest updates - and let people know by facebook and email whenever we make an update to the game.

IC Explanation

It is relatively difficult to produce a credible explanation for a change to the setting and the rules that it as widespread as this one - even given the low bar we usually set ourselves on this front. In the end we opted to go with the ever reliable conjunction. We have a plot ongoing at the moment involving an ominous red star travelling through the heavens which is connected to the Wanderer. Such a powerful symbol of ill-omen and change will not pass the world without leaving its mark and so we have put the in-character onus of responsibility for the recent changes on this dread star.

As ever we need to stress that this is not some kind of plot - you can't move the star and put the rules back... These are OOC changes that we have made because they will make the game better - the star is a convenient piece of ongoing plot that we have conscripted to provide the IC justification for the changes.

Changes

As is usual when PD makes improvements to the Empire rules system, if any player feels that there is a skill that has been materially affected by the new rules that they would not normally have taken, then they can ask PD to remove that skill from their character by emailing us.

Additional Recipes

Potion RecipeNew Potion
Balms of the FountainheadTalonvine Infusion
Decoctions of HoarfrostSorrow's Mask
Lambent Essences Radiant Transcendence
Magnum OpusBlack Star
Tinctures of True Eminence Firewine
Unguents of Falling LeavesEssence of Verdigris

We have added six new potions to the game. Rather than create these as new recipes, each has been added to an existing potion recipe skill. If your character has the appropriate skill, you can choose to know how to make the new potion. If you wish, you may begin play without this knowledge and roleplay gaining it in play from another character. Each of the potions is similar in that they provide an effective three rank boost to a specific ritual lore, and require a ring of ilium to create.

We have also changed the potions that grant additional ranks of Realm Lore to make them tonics. The primary reason for doing this was to prevent stacking a +1 potion with a +3 potion.

Reasoning

These potions are the first of the new elements designed to support the changes to the Realm Lore skill. In each case, they are based on potions that were originally intended to be part of the game but were cut at the last moment around concerns that they were too powerful. With the recent changes, however, these concerns are greatly reduced.

IC Explanation

The Empire has recently defeated a significant Druj force in Reikos. The Druj are experts at the use of herbs, and this is the first time that the Empire has defeated a significant Druj force "at home" - the Stone Toad - and captured some of their herbalist lore. Furthermore, Reikos prior to the orc invasion was a center of Imperial apothecary studies, and a combination of these two factors makes it an ideal place to introduce new lore to the Empire. The potions themselves are not exactly new, however (for example, you might encounter a bottle of Black Star or Firewine squirreled away in the cache of a renegade Kallavesi mystic or ancient tomb); it is simply that previously the methods of brewing them were not commonly known in the Empire.

Mastery

We have implemented a new rule to allow ritualists to swap a single mastered ritual for another ritual chosen from Imperial Lore after each event they attend.

Reasoning

At present we allow players who email us, after their first event or two - to change the rituals they have chosen. We do this to reflect the OOC realisation that they have made a mistake when they generated their character and did not fully understand how the game would play. We also give players an out-of-character opportunity to change rituals and other skill choices whenever we make changes to the relevant rules. However these are out-of-characters changes, previously there has been no in-character way for a character to change their rituals.

Rituals are particularly problematic because the ability to perform them is often reliant on the actions of fellow participants. A group of players may decide to master a powerful ritual - only to find that they can no longer perform the ritual because some of their number have died or switched characters. The rules are designed to encourage significant covens to choose powerful rituals to master together - but the risk that a character becomes stuck with a set of mastered rituals they can no longer use grows over time.

The new rule is designed to give players the confidence to make ambitious choices about the rituals they master, with the knowledge that if it later becomes impossible to perform that ritual they are not permanently stuck with their choice.

The new rules only apply to mastered rituals - because there is no comparable situation for artisans, apothecaries or spell-casters where the skills they choose could become impossible to use due to events beyond their control. An item or potion may be unpopular - but it can never be impossible to make because your IC ally died. However by creating an in-character mechanism for mastered rituals to change we have also opened up options within the game for characters to pursue other in-character methods to change their character's focus.

Rituals

We have made a change to the rules for how much mana an individual magician can contribute to a ritual. We have defined a magicians innate skill in a realm as the number of ranks of that realm lore they have purchased using experience points. The magicians total effective skill, the amount of mana they can contribute to a ritual - may not be more than three times their innate skill.

This rule change means that a character must have spent experience points to purchase a rank of realm lore to be able to contribute to a ritual of that realm. It also puts strict limits on how much mana they can contribute based on the number of ranks of realm lore they have purchased.

Reasoning

This rules change complements a set of additional changes that we are implementing over coming events to increase the potency of methods for increasing your effective skill. At present a potion can provide only a single increase in rank, likewise for many of the masks. We are going to implement additional potions that are more potent - and overhaul the ritual masks to make them much more effective.

The goal is to enable small covens of committed ritualists to be able to significantly boost their effective skill through in-character methods at the event. The best way to perform a powerful ritual will always be to recruit a large coven of skilled ritualists, but this relies on out-of-character friends and influence as much or more than it does on in-character roleplaying. By making items and effects that boost your effective skill more potent we create more IC options for committed ritualists to perform powerful rituals at an event.

To keep game balanced, it is crucial to link the benefits that can be gained in-character to the skills the character has purchased. At present one of the more effective ways to perform a powerful ritual is to get as many contributors as possible, regardless of their skill. This undermines the purpose of playing a committed ritualist. It is extremely expensive to continue buying multiple ranks of skill in a realm - to preserve game balance it is essential that the game advantage provided reflects that commitment.

IC Explanation

These changes (and those to mastery) are the result of the lingering effects of the comet currently visible in the heavens. Changes resulting from that mysterious force are still being felt across the Empire.

Boxes and Chains

If a player's tent includes a wooden or metal box or a metal chain then you should assume that they are made using weirwood and strengthened with the runes Verys and Diras, to the point where they are virtually indestructible. It is possible to destroy a box or a chain - but only by spending hours smashing the item to pieces - making tremendous noise and utterly destroying the contents in the process if you are breaking open a box.

This means that any solid box which is locked cannot be opened in game without the key or a mundane way to pick the lock. If the box is chained to the tent then it cannot be removed.

Players who keep boxes in their IC areas are encouraged to use good looking props where possible. If you want to mark the box with runes for Verys and Diras - you can do so. In particular you should use an appropriate in-character lock which uses a key (combination locks are not appropriate in the setting). The key is obviously a vital in-character phys-rep and should be treated accordingly. It should be kept with other in-character belongings and can be stolen and used as normal. If it is a modern key then please consider what cosmetic changes you can make to it, to make it look more obviously like a game prop.

You cannot have an IC box that can be easily opened and claim it is a locked box. The phys-rep must actually be locked and physically secured. You are allowed to store important in-character and out-of-character valuables together in the box, but bear in mind that it is still theoretically possible that someone might steal the box if it is not chained down. If they do so - they must bring the phys-rep to GOD within half-an hour as per our normal rules for stolen items.

Reasoning

Security of valuables is a classic problem in LRP games. To prevent thieves from stealing items, players tend to bring boxes and chests to put them in. The thieves then appeal to the referees to give them the contents of the box on the grounds that they would have attempted to break open the box. Refs are left trying to arbitrarily decide whether or not a broadsword might really cut through a thick iron chain - how long it might take and how much noise might be involved.

At the heart of the problem is that the activity cannot be phys-repped - the broadsword isn't real - and you couldn't legitimately smash up a player's expensive phys-rep box if it were. Any proposed solution that tries to invoke "realism" just invites escalation. If this box is thin enough that it can be broken into - what happens if I bring a box twice as strong? What happens if it's banded with metal bands? What happens if it's a box made of inch thick steel? Theft is an inherently PvP activity - where both parties want the opposite outcome and both tend to instinctively make the opposite assumption about how easily and how quietly and how quickly the security measures might be breached. Live roleplaying games work best when we can use live mechanisms to find the outcome but here the crucial element that would determine success simply cannot be done "live".

Ultimately, what that means is that PD has to make a ref ruling on whether or not such boxes can be broken open or not. We are bound to disappoint one party - either the person with the valuable box or the person trying to break into it. The only question is which side to favour. To work out the answer to that we go back to some of the original elements of the game design.

Crime is an important part of the Empire setting - but we've always been clear that we wanted crime to be a very deliberate thing. One inspiration for the setting was the clever cons perpetrated by Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards in the Lies of Locke Lamorra. We think there is great game in tricking and outwitting other players - in picking pockets in the market place, in a perfectly planned and executed robbery to steal a key. We'd asked players to refrain from casual murder - and instead to use assassination as a scalpel to remove their enemies and we've been heartened by the largely positive way players had adopted that for Empire, but we realized we'd never really said anything much about robbery. So we were left looking at how much game was created by characters simply going through tents at night and taking anything of IC value and whether that game fitted with what is intended to be a profoundly political PvP game.

Although we were not convinced that casual theft added a great deal to the game - there were some clear OOC problems that were particular to Empire. Late at night children may be sleeping in a tent, and some parents were understandably concerned at the idea that thieves might be rifling tents in which children were sleeping. In practice a better time to rob a player's in-character tent was around 11:30 on Saturday morning - when the character had gone off to battle - or even worse when they had volunteered to monster. Inadvertently we had created a situation which discouraged in-character camping with small children... and discouraged participation in the battle.

As a result we have chosen to settle the dispute in favour of the people with the boxes. We appreciate that this will make it significantly more likely that people will invest in essentially impervious boxes to store IC valuables - and that turning over tents when people are out is likely to diminish, probably significantly as a result. We had to make a decision on this - we fully appreciate that this decision will not suit everyone but we feel this decision better fits with the overall character of the game we are trying to deliver for players at Empire. A brilliantly executed theft or clever con are still intended to be very legitimate parts of Empire - and we hope this ruling will inspire enterprising montebancs to carefully craft their daring heists.

IC Explanation

Artisans in Wintermark have discovered that they can strengthen chains and boxes made with mithril and weirwood using the rune of Verys. Their discoveries have been quickly copied by skilled artisans in several other nations. The results are highly expensive - even more pricey than an Urizen lightstone - but any character of wealth and means (any character who attends Anvil) is welcome to roleplay that they have acquired one.

"Ta da" said Deorwine proudly, beaming at his wife.

She looked at him and then back at the small box in the centre of his steel making table. Then back at her talented but often incredible obtuse husband. "It's a little box?"

Doerwine nodded, still grinning from ear to ear. "It's fashioned from weirwood, and reinforced with mithril bands! I've spent two weeks carving the inside with paired runes - Verys and Diras".

Aune shut her eyes and did some mental calculations. It wasn't a big box but weirwood was one of the most expensive materials in the Empire. Only an utter fool would even contemplate using such a priceless material for a box. She had already written off the time for the week spent carving - marry a Steinr and he's just going to put a rune on everything... it's what they do. "It's an astonishingly expensive little box?" she said - trying hard to hide her sense of exasperation.

Doerwine nodded again - still grinning. Aune was reminded of the time her sister, Essi had once commented on her husband's likeness to a boarhound. She couldn't help but smile, Win's loyalty was unwavering, whereas Essi had come back from from a week's hunting to find her husband in bed with some Freeborn strumpet. "What's it for my love?" she asked, reminding herself that loyalty was a virtue that should always be returned.

"Watch!" he said, and walked over to his tool rack. He picked up his biggest sledge, a huge over-sized hammer, and with a groan he swung it over his head. Aune's jaw dropped in horror as he brought it crashing down on top of the priceless box. Unfortunate, as sometime later she realized was still standing there like some slack-jawed Marcher astonished by their first sight of magic. The box wasn't just intact, it appeared unscathed.

"Good eh?" said Deorwine. "I've no idea what I can use it for - but I've strengthened it so much that you'd need to be a troll to smash it open."

Aune looked at the box on the table. She thought about what a rich Thane might pay for a box no thief could ever hope to break open. Such a little thing... to be worth so much.

"Better than good my love.... Much better. How many more can you make before the solstice?"

Conjunctions

We have updated the rules on major conjunctions to limit which nations can go on the battle and when. In the first year of the game there were limits on how many nations - with larger nations like Wintermark counting double - but those rules largely lapsed. We trialed some new rules at event one in 2016, but they were too restrictive. Consequently we have adapted the rules to allow the widest possible arrangement of nations - to let the players choose any strategic combination that still preserves roughly equal numbers for each battle.

Under the new rules, the civil service will present the Imperial Military Council with the best estimate of the fighting strength of each nation. of their options, which nations could take the battlefield together. Each of the two battles must have at least 50 and at most 60 force weight sent on it. These weightings will be subject to change over time.

At the forthcoming event, the weightings are:

National Weightings

Nation Force Weight
Wintermark 20
Navarr 15
Dawn 13
Highguard 14
Varushka 11
League 10
Marches 8
Urizen 7
Imperial Orcs 6
Brass Coast 6

All the nations are much bigger than the numbers listed - the numbers listed reflect the relative numerical strength of the nations not the actual number of fighters who take the field.

Reasoning

One of the fundamental design principles for Empire is to try to avoid giving players any opportunity to have a bad time. It is one of the truisms of LRP that many players will follow what their characters does - and have a bad time - rather than pick the option that is the most fun. In our view, good game design is about presenting players with cool in-character choices - where they will have out-of-character fun no matter what option they choose.

The nations are radically different in size - but our volunteer pool is drawn from the players who are not fighting that battle as their character. So the number of Imperial characters who fight on a battle directly impacts on the number of volunteers available and that is a big factor in how enjoyable the resulting fight is. In effect, if one battle is more political expedient than another, then it is strategically sound to weight that battle and give up on the other one, even though that makes both battles less enjoyable from an OOC perspective.

There are also issues in which a significant factor in military council choices about the battle were the perceived levels of warriors that each nation was bringing. The perceived need to balance the sides - for fairness - was crowding the IC discussions which might otherwise have focused solely on the political and tactical implications of the choices.

Therefore, we have removed this dimension of choice. We are tracking the number of players who take the battle from each nation each event - that will allow us to pick at least four battle options for every event that we know are broadly even. Players in the military council will not need to worry about balancing the sides - that has already been done - they can concentrate on making choices based on purely in-character considerations.

IC Explanation

The Sentinel Gate is known to be strongly linked with movements of the Wanderer, a fickle and unpredictable star. Recent movements of the star, have indicated a subtle but vital weakening of the strength of major conjunctions - a vital part of the Imperial military machine. After much examination of the gate, the Imperial magicians employed by the civil service have identified that the conjunctions are still operational - but that the options for which nations may travel together are now more limited than they once were.

The magicians expect that the options are likely to change with time - indeed they do not expect them to remain constant from one summit to the next, but they are confident that they provide the military Council with a definitive list of options each summit by through the use of night magic divination.

Megaris, leaned back and rubbed her eyes, trying to use her fingers to relieve the strain caused by the hours spent staring through the lens of her mentor's telescope. She picked the stylus and recorded the coordinates of the three stars she had been observing, sighing as she did so. Star-gazing had seemed so mysterious, so exciting, when she was a young student. If she'd realized that her chosen occupation would mostly consist of counting stars, she might have been less disdainful of other traditions.

"I wander why Vitula is so interested in the Wanderer" she said aloud. "What it is doing that is so important?"

"Child, how many times must I explain?" Megaris jumped at the sudden intervention. Vitula, her mentor was always quiet and had developed the intimidating habit of coming up behind her student. She wandered how long the woman had been watching her.

"The stars don't do anything. No more than the runes the Mark pull from their bags. They're just a way to sense what is happening in the world. I met a Feni wizard once, who used to drop molten wax into ice-water, claimed he could read the winds of magic in the patterns formed."

Megaris rolled her eyes, she'd heard this explanation a thousand times from Vitula. It was only a figure of speech, that was all. Besides ... not everyone quite agreed with Vitula's view of the matter, no matter how often she repeated it. Still, she was Vitula's student, the time for having her own opinions on magic was after she had learned what she could from her teacher and not before.

Thankfully the dreary anecdote of the Feni magician was cut short as Vitula leant over her desk to inspect her latest records. She stared at them intently, ignoring Megaris who waited eagerly if she would dispense some wisdom on what it all meant.

"We need to keep watching, we need to record the motion accurately, to discern what is happening" was all she said before turning and gliding silently away.

Megaris signed, and rubbed her sore eye again before bending back to the telescope. Her teacher knew a lot about the stars, it was her definition of "we" that left a lot to be desired.

Shatter

We have increased the minimum length required to use a weapon with the shattering blow skill. The previous minimum was 42", this has been increased to 48". This means it will no longer be possible to use the skill to call shatter by holding a 42" sword in two hands.

In addition, we have clarified the rules to make clear that it is not possible to use the shattering blow skill using a spear, similar polearm, or quarterstaff.

We're also taking other steps to reduce the frequency of the shatter call on the battlefield, starting with our approach to briefing monsters.

Reasoning

Shatter is one of the most powerful calls in the Empire system. Its role in the system is partly to balance the weakness of two-handed weapons in live roleplaying games. In the real world, two-handed weapons provide a significant advantage to the wielder by allowing them to strike a heavier blow, but at the cost of being able to use a shield. In Empire, a character with a two-handed sword cannot use a shield, but they gain no advantage at all in terms of being able to strike a heavier blow. The shatter call tries to address that inherent limitation.

We appreciate that 48" two-handed swords are uncommon, that most weapon makers create swords to the commonly used system lengths, 42" for a one-handed weapon and 60" for a two-handed weapon. There is some variation but since most player want the longest reach that they get, weapons size tend to closely follow standard category limits. As a result, we anticipate that the majority of characters using the shattering blow skill will do so using a large two-handed weapon. This is desirable, we want characters wielding two-handed weapons capable of shattering a shield or weapon to be clearly identifiable to other participants on the battlefield.

The original rules meant that it was possible to use a 42" weapon in two hands with the shattering blow skill. This had a very unfortunate and undesirable consequence with monstering, where it is common for volunteers to turn up armed with a 42" sword and no shield. In some circumstances, it was clear that these volunteers were being briefed to have one hero point and an appropriate call - at which point they made the understandable but undesirable assumption that it would be acceptable to wield the weapon in two hands to call shatter, before reverting to one-handed use. That increased the prevalence of shatter on the battlefield, made it impossible to identify when having your weapons shattered might be a risk, and removed the relative advantage of two-handed weapons, by allowing characters to use the skill with a one-handed weapon - albeit wielded in two hands for that blow.

The new rules make clear that situation is not possible - you cannot wield a 42" weapon in two hands to call shatter with the shattering blow skill.

The original rules also made it possible to use a one-handed spear of the right length and then attempt a shattering blow by putting a second hand on the weapon. The new rules make clear that this is not possible - you must have an appropriate phys-rep to use the shattering blow skill - either a sword, axe, hammer or mace - that is of the right length.

Any player who wishes to drop the shattering blow skill as a result of these rules changes can do so by emailing us.

Artisan's Oil

We are implementing a new option for artificers for 2016 onwards - allowing them to create three doses of Artisan's Oil in a month at a cost of 1 crown.

Reasoning

At present there is no consumable resource (other than mana crystals for wizards) that could allow a character to repair a shattered weapon. Comparable battlefield effects, like a cleaved limb or being reduced to zero hits can be treated with magic or with herbs. Creating an additional consumable mechanism for repairing shattered items brings it into line with these effects - and also gives artificers an additional ability that they can utilize on the battlefield.

IC Explanation

Manuals explaining how to create the oil were bought from the Commonwealth by members of the Purple Sails Sodality, who then distributed it widely across the Empire.

Downtime

We have amended the downtime system to remove the option to commit illegal or risky acts, foreign trade with barbarians, piracy with foreigners and raiding of nearby nations. From 2016 onwards fleets will be able to trade with foreign nations or pirate barbarian nations, or support Imperial navies. Military units will be able to support Imperial armies or carry out "mercenary" work.

We have removed the cost to the Empire to pay for the civil servants who were preventing illegal fleet actions.

The reasoning behind these changes is highly theoretical and consequently requires a fairly lengthy reasoning to explain it.

Reasoning

The version of the downtime system in the first few years contained actions that allowed players with fleets and military units to make choices in downtime that would impact the wider campaign. For example, by pirating foreigners it was possibly to damage foreign relations with that nation. When the Thule ceasefire came into being, it created the possibility that a few players might wreck the treaty simply by clicking a downtime option to raid the Thule - quite possibly even without realizing the implications of what they were doing.

At first glance, it appears appealing to give players the opportunity to change the campaign dynamics through downtime options. The previous game that we had run, Maelstrom, made widespread use of this concept, presenting players with downtime options that were beneficial to them but caused friction with other players. While it worked for that game, there were significant problems with the approach, but we had imagined that Empire would avoid these errors by shifting to political PvP mechanics instead of camp rolling.

In practice, the hugely streamlined downtime system used for Empire served to demonstrate the fundamental conceptual flaws in allowing this kind of downtime action. There are four core problems:

Conceptual

The Empire downtime system was conceived as an adjunct to the game. Its purpose is to produce an outcome we call "reflection" - the idea that the actions the players take should be reflected in changes in state to the world. Because this is a live roleplaying game - in this context, actions means "actions taken at the events". It exists to give the campaign meaning and credibility. If the Empire cede a region in Skarsind to the Thule - this has meaning and a discernible impact because the downtime system ensures that those decisions have palpable consequences.

Its purpose is not to drive the campaign - we want a downtime system because we want to ensure that Empire had a believable credible campaign setting - where the actions of players have a profound impact on the game world. But the design goal was to ensure that Empire remained a live roleplaying game 100% - that all the important decisions were ones taken at the events - that the campaign was driven by the actions of the players while roleplaying at the events - not by the choices they make in downtime.

We absolutely do want players to have opportunities to wreck peace treaties that other players have worked incredibly hard to create - that is essential to the game. But that opportunity should only happen as a result of actions taken while live roleplaying at events - not by decisions taken in downtime.

Cognitive

Research into various cognitive biases shows that human beings find it easier to break rules the further removed they are from the consequences of their actions. The more abstract the situation, the easier it becomes to justify the action to breach social protocols and break laws. In takes a significant degree of nerve - and preparedness for confrontation - to act against the socially agreed consensus - for example by breaking a treaty. But experience has shown us that players find it vastly easier to do this when choosing downtime options - where the actions are highly abstracted from the actions and the consequences are distant - than they would be to take actions with similar effects at an event. (for example see the current moment bias). In LRP terms we could summarize this as "Downtime crime is easy - uptime crime requires real guts".

At first glance, this appears desirable, if conflict is the lifeblood of a PvP political game, then seducing players into choosing antagonistic actions by making the pathways to conflict easier should create more conflict. Unfortunately the abstraction and the ease with which these decisions can be taken has a downside - namely that players feel detached from the decisions they haven taken. The actions do not feel like genuinely heartfelt decisions - because they are not - they are abstracted artificial choices.

As a result of this lack of internal commitment to the decisions, many players will attempt to reverse their choice when faced with the consequences at an event. In the best cases they tend to backtrack and use the artificiality of the downtime system to create new narratives that distance or divorce themselves from the actions they have taken. (Maelstrom provides a charming example of this, where characters who were horrified by the existence of slavery would continue to work large plantations full of slaves in downtime by claiming in uptime that the slaves were actually serfs). In the worst cases, players will abandon the character completely rather than face a confrontation they have not fully committed themselves to or in some cases even claim that the action was not taken by them (blaming system errors).

As a consequence the conflict that is generated by these kind of downtime actions is very often substantially inferior to the kind of conflict that is generated by uptime actions. Players who are the victims of the actions find it frustrating that there are few players prepared to stand by their actions. Players who are the perpetrators don't enjoy the experience of the ensuring confrontations because few were really committed to the actions they have taken, they were neither prepared for the ensuing conflict nor fully invested in what they have done.

The net result is that while these kind of conflicts are artificially easy to generate, they are often negative for the game experience as a whole. In Empire we want the conflicts that develop to be the result of actions that players have taken live at the events; in this way they are more fully invested in those decisions and better prepared for the ensuing confrontations.

Consequential

Empire is intended to be a game of significant decisions with important consequences. For those consequences to happen, actors in the campaign need to be able to link the actions of individuals to the perpetrators of those actions. As a simple example, there are no consequences to stealing - unless someone is caught for it.

In an ideal live roleplaying game the mechanisms that allow characters to identify the antagonists do not require reference to the organizers. If you assassinate a character in Empire, whether or not you are caught depends most heavily on whether there are any witnesses, how you dispose of the body, how well you hide your motivations - and so on. When working well, none of these factors require you to interact with Profound Decisions - they exist purely in the interaction between players in the field. Players may obtain interventions by refs using spells, rituals, or similar, but these work in predictable and readily repeatable ways. In essence whether or not you get caught for your actions depends on what you do, how well you do it and the IC actions of your political rivals.

Unfortunately, this situation is reversed when the actions take place in downtime. When a player clicks a downtime option to pirate a foreign vessel, whether or not any word of that action ever gets back to the foreign nation is a judgement decision made solely by us as organizers. There are almost no mechanisms that players can pursue at events that will allow them to identify who did the piracy - unless we choose to add a ritual or similar that identifies the guilty party - at which point there is no possibility of error. In effect, all the information pertaining to the action and its consequences can only be gained through interaction with Profound Decisions rather than through interaction with other players.

This makes it exceptionally difficult for organizers to decide how difficult such information is to obtain. The two simple outcomes are to provide all the information or no information and while it is possible to obfuscate the information, it is fairly tortuous to do so. If we give out no information we make it impossible for the perpetrators to be discovered, which makes it almost impossible to catch and stop them - and that removes the possibility of consequences. If we give out all the information we make it impossible for the perpetrators to get away with their crime

It is conceptually undesirable that the actions needed to investigate a downtime action rely solely on interactions with the organizers, but also highly problematic for the organizers to find themselves in the position of either giving out all the information or none of it.

Challenge

Actions that challenge the status quo - especially things like piracy and raiding would in reality be risky and difficult endeavours. They would be laced with danger and the clear risk of failure. None of this risk can be adequately modelled by our downtime system - the closest we could come would be choosing a random outcome to try to cover the possible risks. In contrast, actions taken at events have a clear risk of failure which is set by the environment, the actions attempted and the acts of others.

This latter element is crucial - at an event other participants can choose to act in ways that will make the actions of their rivals more or less likely to succeed. The difficulty of successfully achieving the desired outcome is dependent on the actions of everyone present - rather than random numbers generated by the organizer. Critically it allows other participants to act in ways that try to prevent their antagonists from succeeding, something is entirely lacking in a simplified downtime system like Empire. In plain terms, players can pass laws at events to allow or disallow piracy, but they can't put spies on ships or dock fronts to try and catch those engaged in it.

In a simplified downtime system it is very difficult to set the challenge of engaging in conflict at a justifiable level and almost impossible to have the level of challenge take account of the actions of other players who might wish to prevent it. In contrast, the challenge involved in succeeding at actions at events that would generate conflict is set totally organically and takes perfect account of the efficacy of the counter-actions of everyone involved.

tl:dr;

Conflict generated from actions taken in downtime is inherently inferior to conflict generated from decisions and actions made at events. We have chosen to remove the option so that we can better focus our efforts on improving ways to generate conflict at events.

IC Explanation

The changes made to military units do not require an explanation. Characters who choose to receive a bounty rather than supporting an Imperial army are free to roleplay that their military unit has been raiding the Thule, the Jotun or whoever. However what we have clarified is that such raids are below the abstraction layer - they do not have a significant campaign effect and consequently they are not detectable.

The legal changes made to fleets - that prevented them engaging in illegal piracy and illegal trade were made as a result of a law passed by the Empire. This law is back in force after a brief absence but the very significant costs - 50 thrones per season - are now being paid by an Imperial sodality - the Purple Sails - rather than from the Imperial treasury. Should the Senate ever decide to repeal this law, we would restore the option to commit illegal piracy and trade but it would be less effective than legal actions (to reflect the difficulties in carrying out illegal actions) not more effective as it was previously - and there would be an immediate and significant negative response from all foreign powers in the world of Empire.

The Throne

We have updated the description of the powers of The Throne. In some cases the existing powers (such as the veto in the Military Council) were listed elsewhere on the wiki but were not listed on the wiki page for The Throne. In some cases, such as the defender of the Empire the text was not clear on how the power worked.

We have added the power to address the Military Council once an event. The power of address is very much in line with the other powers of The Throne but was not included in the original draft for the page as the power did not exist in the game at that time (it was added when the description of the Military Council was overhauled).

We have changed the description of the voting power of The Throne in the Synod. The original notes on the Constitution assumed that the Assembly of Nine would vote by congregation strength - but in fact the Assembly is one member one vote, so the description in the notes made little sense.

The in-character explanation for these changes is that the civil service have rigorously checked the powers of The Throne, following the recent election.

Commission Costings

We have amended the costs for the Imperial Senate to Commission a spy network, to raise an army, and to enlarge an Imperial army, by adding a cost in thrones to reflect the labour required for these tasks (we have reduced the number of wains required). This has been done to bring these costs into line with other commissions. All standard commissions should now be operating on a system in which there is a labour cost of 2 crowns per wain used.

We have added an upkeep of 5 thrones to a shipyard to reflect their increased significance in the system; we will adjust the Imperial budget so that there is no impact to effective existing costs arising from the Madruga Shipyard.

We have removed the requirement for an army to remain out of conflict for a year for it to be enlarged. While this restriction could be regarded as "realistic" and was originally conceived as part of the play balance preventing large armies, it was clear in hindsight that the increased costs for a large army were already significant. Critically we did not want the experience of an Imperial general elected to serve for a year to be one in which they ordered their army to do nothing while it was enlarged to make it more effective for their successor.

War

We have amended the published rules on the wiki for armies attacking a region (it is now clear that it must be adjacent to an existing Imperial controlled region). During discussion, it was clear that many players and some members of the game team held different views on how this fine point of the rules worked. The wiki is now very explicit and the rules are simple and help to provide a basis for long-term strategic planning by Imperial generals.

Fast Casting Effects

Since the changes to spellcasting, rituals and items that allowed the fast-casting of regular spells were lagging behind in effectiveness. We've now adjusted these effects to allow a magician to cast spells with a few seconds of appropriate roleplaying, rather than 5 seconds of roleplaying. Furthermore, this means that (as with offensive spells the caster is not interrupted if they or their target are struck, or if the target is making an attack. All other restrictions of casting regular spells apply, especially the requirement that you must be capable of touching the target with your casting hand as you cast the spell. These changes affect the Hands of the Healer, Smooth Hands Shape the World, and Thought Becomes Action (removed) rituals, as well as the Forge of Isenbrad and Trollsweave Vest.

Healer's Harness

At the same time, we've altered the Healer's Harness ability to prevent loss of mana when interrupted while casting a healing spell. The change to spellcasting meant that nobody loses mana when a spell is interrupted; they simply have to begin the casting again, We have changed the effect, and slightly increased the cost in materials to create the item, which now provides reciprocal healing for the wearer when they use certain healing spells.

Warcaster's Oath

Likewise, the Warcaster's Oath effect has also changed. This shield is thematically intended to be useful for magicians who fight on the front lines, and the new power - to gain a burst of personal emergency healing in return for personal mana - is intended to reflect that.

Further Reading