Rules update 2017
Over winter of 2016/2017 we have carried out our annual review of the rules from last few years of Empire. As usual we are implementing some changes to the published rules. We are in the process of updating the wiki and the downtime system to reflect the changes, but will summarize and explain all changes here so that players can identify the changes easily.
We will try to include a section after each rules update to explain the reasoning behind the change.
We will post a link to this page once the update is complete, and continue to update this page throughout 2017 with any major changes.
If your character has an ability that has changed because of these rules changes then you are welcome to remove this skill by emailing us.
We are testing a new method for handling conjunctions at this event. Previously the only way for any character to find out if a conjunction existed was to check the Sentinel Gate using detect magic.
At this event, the egregores will be aware of the existence of a number of conjunctions, as well as some information about the nature of the conjunction (not just the time and location but some very basic information about what is happening to cause the conjunction to occur). An egregore will only be aware of conjunctions that are connected to their nation (and not all of them even). They will try to find individuals in the nation that they believe each conjunction will benefit - but you can also ask them about a specific time and place if you wish. They won't know about all the conjunctions however - so it is still important to check the Sentinel Gate if the egregore cannot help you.
Remember that egregores are characters loyal to their nation. They are not likely to be interested in providing information on conjunctions to members of other nations, nor to simply handing over everything they know to someone who simply asks for it all. They regard the information they have as entrusted to them to dispense wisely in the best interest of their nation.
This rules change is laid out as a conjunction - if the new approach works well then the change will be permanent - but we are likely to continue to change some details as we experiment to find the best possible way to deliver cool quests and encounters to as many players as possible.
Over this year we have been steadily improving the software that we use to manage conjunctions which has reduced the number of problems linked to quests and encounters outside Anvil. However there have still been a handful of unfortunate situations where players have got the wrong information about the time, destination, or nature of a conjunction. That information quickly becomes accepted fact when passed from one player to another leading to disappointment all round when (if) the facts finally come out.
So at this event we are trialing a new system, in which our NPC egregores will be aware of the existence and nature of some conjunctions. As they act in the interests of their nation, these characters will explicitly seek out the characters to whom the conjunction is relevant to give them the information in-character. As a full-time NPC, the egregore will continue to be available in the nation throughout the event - so they will hopefully be able to correct any misinformation that arises in play from the usual Chinese whispers. We hope that this approach - having our field NPCs in a position to give players advice and support on the time and nature of conjunctions - will make it significantly less likely that anything goes awry.
Not all quests are compatible with this approach - so it will always still be worth checking the Sentinel Gate if you are following up a lead - but hopefully players will find it easier to check with their egregore first. They can save you finding a ref, save you spending your mana, and best of all will be able to let us know what conjunctions you are looking for (which can influence the plots we write for future events).
The recent conjunction between the astrological symbol for the Door and the Web is the cause of this effect. Since that conjunction began, the egregores have reported being aware of some conjunctions at the Sentinel Gate. Checking these conjunctions with detect magic confirms that they all appear to be genuine. There is no immediate explanation for this change, but it is likely that the magic of the gate has been influenced in some way by the conjunction, allowing those embodiments of the nations linked to it to sense when it might be used. The egregores also report that in most cases they are able to sense more details than are revealed using detect magic - gaining a limited understanding of the nature of the conjunction. This coming summit will be a chance to tell how accurate these details are.
There has been some discussion between the egregores about the nature of this change. None are aware of anything similar happening before and at present it is impossible to tell if this is a temporary change or something more permanent. As a group they seem to believe that the change is fate's why of empowering them to better serve their nation - by allowing them to advise the heroes of their nation on the opportunities available. They have decided to try and seek out appropriate individuals at the next summit where possible, and let them know of the existence of any conjunctions relevant to them, but all have indicated that individuals are welcome to ask them about specific conjunctions.
The list of conjunctions does not appear to include all conjunctions, so anyone who is checking if a conjunction exists is still advised to check the conjunction at the Sentinel Gate using detect magic even if their nation's egregore is unaware of any useful conjunction.
Call Winged Messenger
We have overhauled the way call winged messenger works. Previously the ritual allowed you to write anything on anything and send it to anyone.
The ritual has been changed to a lower magnitude but now requires a pre-prepared ritual message. This can be created by any character - but requires three measures of iridescent gloaming - for a single page of text. Messages can be prepared before the event and collected in your pack - or created at the event by going to GOD - just like arcane projections. The message is limited to 2500 characters.
When the ritualist casts the ritual, the pre-prepared ritual message is taken to the target - if the ritual fails because the target isn't valid then the message will be in the creator's pack next event they attend.
The old system of winged messages enabled players to write their messages in the field and send them to us - which was cool - but unfortunately it resulted in us getting a lot of messages that were exceptionally difficult to read. Often they were written on rough scraps of paper and all too often the handwriting was very hard to decipher.
The only way we could handle those was to find some member of plot team to read them as they came in - and then try desperately to type them all up after the event - so every member of our team could access them. Unfortunately that process was extremely time-consuming and error prone and that meant that our responses to these messages were often delayed or disappeared completely. Given that these letters turned as scraps of paper - and were being handed around the plot tent - it was often exceptionally difficult to keep track of them in the chaos of the event.
The new approach has one clear disadvantage - namely that the actual message needs to be prepared in GOD, rather than while playing your character. We were disappointed to make that change - but the benefits from the new approach are significant. Now the message is logged on our computer system - which means that when you cast the ritual we know exactly what has been written and to whom. We no longer have to try to decipher different hand-writing and it should be almost impossible for any winged message to go missing.
We're confident this will allow us to do a vastly better job of managing our responses to letters. We should be able to respond more promptly at events - as well as being able to follow up messages much better between events without needing to find a volunteer to spend hours typing them up. It will always be a challenge to be as responsive to player actions as we'd like, but this change will give us a fighting chance to be much more responsive.
We have limited the length of ritual messages because we still have to read them all! Long messages take a while to read - which can quickly add up when a message needs to be read by multiple members of the team. Crucially though, the longer the message... the more likely it is that a key point that a player has written will be overlooked. Limiting players to shorter messages will make it harder for that to happen.
Finally the new system will make it easy and effective for us to return a failed message. Currently a failed message just disappears - which is awful game design because it means the player gets no feedback that their attempt to achieve something has failed. Returning a failed letter to the person who wrote it means that they will know it failed - so at least they know what has happened. We hope it will also mean that players get better at making sure they have a valid target for their ritual!
There has been a recent conjunction between the astrological symbol for the Door and the Web. Magicians are never really sure whether such conjunctions cause magic to change - or are instead visible symbols of hidden currents of magic. Regardless of the reason the movement of the stars remains one of the most effective ways to tell when powerful forces are changing in the world of Empire.
We've reviewed and overhauled all our divination-style rituals - rituals that gather information about people, objects, and the area immediately around the ritualists. We're keen to ensure that every divination ritual provides information to the casters that is either useful, or interesting. Useful information helps characters take action - whether it's moving a plot forward or pursuing some in-character goal such as apprehending a criminal. Interesting information provides context or detail about the game world that is valuable in its own right. We're very keen to reduce the number of times that the players perform a divination ritual and get information that is bland, irrelevant, or useless.
The first big change is that we've added a divination function to the detect magic spell. Anyone can cast this on a character; on a ribboned item; or on their immediate area to find out if there is anything valuable to be learned using a divination effect - whether that's a magical ritual or the insight ceremony. Previously, a character had to actually perform the ritual to find out if there was any information to uncover, which was wasteful not just in terms of mana but in terms of time invested, and player enthusiasm.
You don't have to take this first step - if someone is complaining about being covered in imaginary bees it is reasonable to assume that they are probably under a curse - but it provides a useful first step in analysing a situation that has a relatively low cost (personal mana), and is open to any magician.
The next change is that we have ensured that each divination ritual is distinct. Previously, for example, there was significant crossover between Bright Lantern of Ophis and Reading the Weave, and between Bright Lantern and Wisdom of the Balanced Blade. This created suboptimal situations where a given ritual would provide some information that another ritual provided, but in a different way or to a greater or lesser degree, complicating both the lives of plot writers who had to fill in information in multiple boxes, and referees who had to disentangle it all.
Some rituals have changed more than others. Hand of the Maker, for example, now provides more information about the creator of a crafted item, and the events around its creation. Reading the Weave on the other hand has been completely removed, and parts of its previous function rolled into the new Ties that Bind - a ritual that now focuses entirely on divining the bonds and social connections of characters.
Ties that Bind has undergone a dramatic overhaul. When redesigning divinations, we looked closely at the kinds of information we were able to provide reliably, and we determined that anything that examined the bonds on magic items was providing very variable results. The new Ties that Bind is more reliable because it targets a character - and a referee can check the details of the information they are handing out and ensure it is correct (something that is impossible with just a ribboned item). We're hopeful that the recent change to allow players to see which magic items they are bonded to will go some way to improving our ability to say with certainty who is bonded to what item, or who has been bonded to it in the past - we're not ruling out the possibility of divining the bonds on an item in future, but for now we're removing that effect from Imperial Lore.
Two other rituals have undergone significant changes are Clear Lens of the Eternal River and Shadowed Glass of Sung. These rituals were simply too ambitious in what they did, rarely worked, were rarely used for their intended purpose, but simultaneously created an unsustainable burden on plot writers who were expected to create information on the off chance these rituals were used. We're very keen to cut down the need for plot writers to create text that never gets seen. The rituals also did the same thing in different ways, something that muddies the waters between the realms and effectively doubled the workload. Now, these two rituals provide two specific kinds of information - the historical context of a location (something we know a plot writer will already have decided as part of writing their quest), and a typically whimsical possibility of "something cool" - provided the plot writer has written something, which can easily be determined with detect magic.
Finally we've added a new ritual Hakima's Glass. While not the most exciting ritual in the world, it allows for a function that was previously tied up in various other rituals - the ability to cast detect magic on someone or something that is protected by a shroud or other obscuring effect.
A few magnitudes have changed, but for the most part we've ensured that they remain within reach of solo casters. We were keen to support the characterisation of a specialist diviner magician, and so the majority of the rituals are magnitude 6 or 8 - the former easily attainable by a master magician or an adept with a suitable bonus, the latter easily attainable by a master with access to the Imperial regio, a magic item, or a potion.
In Character Explanation
Last event's conjunction, focusing as it did around themes of things being hidden and revealed, is responsible for the changes to divination. The exception is Hakima's Glass - we are suggesting that the ritual was always around, it was simply not worth bothering with until the recent rise in the number of shrouds, and the changes to rituals such as Bright Lantern of Ophis, made it potentially useful again.
Bourse Private Auction
We have take the decision to cut the Bourse private auction for the time being. The auction was a massive investment of time and energy by various plot writers and having examined the concept at great length over winter, we have become convinced that we should try to see if we can't get a lot more plot and game by investing that time elsewhere. Some of those ideas are being trialled in this and other winds of fortune. If they work well and create game then we'll put our efforts into more plot of this kind in the future.
There is an update in the Winds of Fortune that explains the IC reasoning for this update.
All the item updates are now complete - a number of items have had their powers changed - and at least two items have been removed. The Sundering Axe has been replaced by a Shieldbreaker and the old Woodcutter's Axe has been replaced with a Butcher's Cleaver. If you have one of these items currently - its powers are replaced by the replacement item. If you could make one of these items before - then you can now make the replacement item. All existing magical standards have been changed to become a Thaneshall Banner.
Anyone who wants to drop a skill for an item they no longer wish to make because of the rules changes can email us and we'll sort that - or you can sort it in GOD at the event. If you have one of the items that has been removed and you don't want the replacement item - then you can surrender the item in GOD to get the materials used to make it returned to you - albeit pro-rata for the number of seasons remaining on the enchantment.
Players are no longer allowed to bring pyrotechnics (anything classed as a firework, which is anything that has powder charge and an igniter and a lower yield than 10grams). We used to allow players to do this - if they let us know beforehand - but unfortunately that is no longer possible.
Unfortunately, the new Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Possession of Pyrotechnic Articles at Musical Events) basically means that it is no longer possible to have a licensed bar at the event and also allow players to have their own pyros on site. We are allowed to use our own pyros - but attendees can't bring their own. The new law covers anything classed as a firework, which is anything that has powder charge and an igniter and a lower yield than 10grams. Obviously this isn't a decision we wanted to take - but the matter is out of our hands unfortunately and we have to comply with the new law.
We have reversed the order of information for a spy network. This makes it more expensive for the Empire to get a good quality strategic map for a new territory - but ensures that you can always find basic military information - like the presence of enemy armies.
Under the old rules, small numbers of players were using spy networks and effectively getting nothing (because they were getting a map the Empire already had). It's part of our game design that we try to ensure that players have the best possible chance of having something useful at the start of every event. With the changes to the guerdon it was more important to update spy networks as the chance was increasingly high that players would receive nothing.
With the new rules, when the spy network is built, the Empire can take steps to ensure that they have enough military units to get a map of the area. But military units assigned to the spy network in subsequent seasons will always finding some useful information - even if that information is only that there are no armies here.
A recent conjunction has had a profound effect on the abilities of scouts and spies everywhere.
Warmage, Bursar and Seer
The changes to the Imperial Conclave - removing the gambit and giving the mana directly to the grandmasters to use to further their political order's ambitions have blunted the power of the Imperial Seer, Bursar of the Conclave and the Warmage. To address this we have made some changes to each of these titles. The Bursar has gained a ministry - in line with their economic responsibility to help the Conclave raise money to acquire resources for Conclave members and to arrange the purchase of materials and items that the Conclave wishes to acquire. The Imperial Seer has gained a unique consumable resource and an important piece of new regalia - the Hawk's Demeanour and the Warmage has gained the support of the Arch of the Sky, providing the title with a small bounty of illium each event.
We were keen to give these affected Imperial titles some additional options to increase the potential for roleplaying - to correspond with the abilities lost with the gambits. The challenge with the Warmage is that we want to ensure that the position is still dependent on the support of the orders to achieve things - we didn't want to give them their own mana supply because that would have meant less need to roleplay with others. We hope that a supply of ilium will give them something that other magicians want - and that will give them some leverage to negotiate with the orders for aid.
The Imperial Seer was due to receive a gambit next event had the system not been changed in the meantime. Their new regalia and resources will make it easier for them (or an ally) to perform powerful divination rituals - an essential part of their job. Like the Warmage they are still dependent on the support of the Conclave - but we hope their items will enable to them do more if they can get that support.
The Bursar is a simpler change - giving them an economic route to turn money into more mana crystals. We hope that this will give them an effective position to increase their wealth from one event to the next by roleplaying over the opportunities the additional mana presents.
We have removed the rule that a failed judgement in the Imperial Synod would require primacy to raise again. The penalties for resubmitting a judgement that required a lesser majority make sense - but there was no need for the additional penalties when resubmitting a judgement that required a greater majority. Players correctly pointed out that it led to some very perverse game play options that were difficult to counter. As a result we've dropped this line from the changes - members of the Synod may resubmit a judgement that requires a greater majority without additional restriction.
The Military Council
We are making a number of changes to the operation and running of the Military Council. Meetings of the Military Council will now take place in a separate marquee near the Hub, rather than in the Senate building. We will put the map table in the room - but are looking at options to lower the table so it is closer to the ground. There will be a ring of benches with the aim to provide just enough seating for each member of the Council. The Herald will chair the meeting - they will allow a free exchange of discussion as is customary in the Military Council - but they will not permit members of the Council to shout each other down and will look to stop people talking over each other.
Adjutants and guests of the Throne (the Throneguard) will be permitted to come and go throughout the meeting, but cannot talk in Council without the nodded consent of the body. The expectation is that adjutants will sit or stand behind their general they are supporting. Any private conversations taking place in the tent should be no louder than a whisper, so that they avoid disrupting the session. The Herald of the Council will use their legal powers to silence or exclude anyone in the tent whose activity is disturbing the meeting.
We had had ongoing feedback about the Military Council that makes clear that the experience of participation for many players is poor. Any meeting involved scores of participants risks devolving into a shouting match where the best pair of lungs wins. The nature of the table meant that players tended to crowd round it which made the room feel claustrophobic for some and crucially meant that access to the table and the discussion was becoming a physical free-for-all.
We have asked the new Herald to take a more proactive approach to chairing the meeting to ensure that all members of the Council have a chance to participate. We want players to become animated, it's fine to shout - but we won't allow the meeting to degenerate into a contest of volume. Crucially we hope that moving to a larger space, laying out seats for each member of the Council - and dictating the terms for the involvement of the adjutants and others present will give us the chance to remove the physical contest of strength to get a place at the table.
The Military Council is intended to be a contest of politics and war, not a physical shoving match. We hope that the new approach will help us to address that.
The current Herald of the Council has resigned. The head of the civil service, Mila Boraslava, has asked Ekaterijna Gremani to assume the position for the Winter summit onwards. The civil service have a degree of leeway to change the format of the meetings they support - so the new Herald has used their authority to bring in the new changes.
Please note that while we are explaining these changes as the decision of the new Herald of the Council - because that is the simplest in-character explanation - this is a decision taken by Profound Decisions for OOC reasons. Please do not remonstrate with our civil servants over policies that Profound Decisions have implemented - the correct way to provide feedback of this kind is to speak to us directly.
We have updated the page detailing the powers of the Throne. The main changes is the introduction of a new power allowing the Throne to designate one citizen who can address the Empire. We have added some important but subtle clarifications for powers like veto and favours.
Looting on battlefields
If your character is looting a weapon or shield from the battlefield so that you can replace a shattered item then you must loot an item that is equivalent to the phys-rep you are going to use. If your character has a large round shield - you must loot another large shield (not a buckler). If your character has a spear - you could replace a shattered spear by looting a similar size polearm - not a sword or axe.
If you are looting an item in this way - you must check with the player whose character you are robbing. An item can only be looted once (so if another player has looted it already, you cannot do so) and there is no point to looting a shattered weapon. If the player tells you that the item has been shattered or looted already - then you cannot loot it.
If you are stealing a ribboned item because you want to take an item of value and keep it, then you should check with the owner. They may ask you to take the phys-rep with the ribbon attached, or they may remove the ribbon and give it to you. A player may do this because they do not want to risk losing an expensive phys-rep, but all our monsters will be instructed to hand over ribbons rather than phys-reps as we are unable to replace stolen phys-reps if we need to respawn the orc. If you take a ribbon you should put the ribbon on a suitable phys-rep of your own as soon as possible after the battle is over.
If you do need to take a phys-rep on the battlefield, either a magical item or a banner or equivalent, then you must return it to GOD after the battle is over. All phys-reps, including barbarian banners must be returned in this way.
There have been a number of contradictory ref calls on whether it is legitimate to replace a shattered weapon on the battlefield. Shatter is an important call and we want it to remain effective on the battlefield - but we also want to preserve a degree of realism over when a player might replace a shattered weapon with an equivalent.
The change to looting magical items is to ensure that if we do need to respawn a barbarian orc then we can be confident that they still have their weapon phys-reps. We have tightened up the rules on stolen phys-reps, especially banners, on the battle because we have made a number of barbarian banners in recent years - but almost none of them survive a single battle. They get looted and never returned - and we simply cannot replace them at the rate they are being taken. The new rule that if you take any phys-rep from the battlefield then it must be returned to GOD before you go back in-character should make it easier for us to puts cool barbarian banners on the field.
Cleave and Impale
We have clarified the effects of CLEAVE and IMPALE to make clear that the limb is disabled and cannot be used. A few players were under the impression that it might still be possible to use a cleaved limb - but you cannot carry on using an item in the hand if that arm is cleaved. If your leg is cleaved then your character can defend themselves but they cannot stand or even kneel. Effectively you must have your bum on the ground.
We have updated the disguise rules to cover pretending to be dead on the battlefield. If your character is pretending to be dead, you must answer truthfully if asked OOC if you are dead or dying.
We have overhauled all the Synod pages on the wiki to bring them into line the presentation and format used for other parts of the wiki and to improve the quality of documentation for all participations on how the Synod works. As part of that process we have made a number of additions and changes described below:
We have reduced the minimum amount of time to submit a judgement before a Synod voting deadline from 4 hours to 3 hours. We have added an additional option that any judgement that requires a greater majority - veto, excommunication, recognition, or change of doctrine - may be raised without the need for three hours of scrutiny. We have limited the power to withdraw a judgement to prevent it being abuse of the system.
We have put in place an additional limitation that a second judgement with the same legal outcome as one already failed by the Synod that summit requires a greater majority to pass. Once the Synod has said no - any further attempt to pass the same judgement requires majority support of all the priests of that assembly. We have also added a limitation against raising multiple identical judgements and against raising the same judgement over and over to prevent people trying to sneak judgements past the Synod without people realizing what has happened.
We have added an option to allow the priest who submitted a judgement to ask the Tribune to count the votes before the deadline. The Tribune will do this under three conditions:
- There is good reason to believe that the greater majority has been achieved
- The Tribune is not already manically busy
- The request is not vexatious
This addition gives the Synod another way to pass a judgement quickly - making them slightly more responsive - without needing to achieve primacy in one fell swoop.
We have given the cardinal a new ability - to extend scrutiny for a judgement once per summit. This allows them move the deadline for voting on that judgement back. Our OOC justification for adding this ability is that the Cardinal will benefit from additional powers and this is subtle and is a nice contrast to the power of the Throne to influence Synod voting. Basically we think it's cool - so we've added it.
We have amended the power of appointment to make clear that this judgement is raised by the Tribune on behalf of the Synod - but only in response to a request by a citizen to be considered for the post.
In addition we are amending the guidelines for New Imperial titles to make clear that the only acceptable constitutional path for a virtue appointment is by judgement of the virtue assembly - not appointment by the cardinal.
We are looking at an IC approach to allow players to choose whether they wish to amend existing titles to operate using the new constitutional guidelines - or leave them as they are. We will present this to the Senate for consideration at the first event.
Change of Doctrine
We have expanded the change of doctrine to include the idea that a failed judgement constitutes defacto but not legal rejection of the suggested change. If the Synod says no to a proposed change of doctrine than most citizens in the Empire will interpret that as a positive rejection of the idea.
Inquisition, Condemnation, Excommunication
We have added a role for the Tribune of the Synod in these judgements - informing the target of what is taking place and what the outcome will be.
We have rewritten condemnation as "sanction" so that it can encompass the new options created by players - vindication, castigation and penance. In effect condemnation is now simply one of four options available to the Synod to sanction an individual.
We have changed the way the Synod veto interacts with a motion passed by the Imperial Senate. Previously a member of the Synod needed to announce they were intending to seek the veto to delay implementation of a motion - now they need to actually submit a judgement to do so. The motion does not progress until the judgement of the Synod is concluded.
Statement of Principle
We have improved statement of principle to allow the General Assembly to pass a statement with a greater majority to have a significant effect on the rest of the Empire. A statement of principle passed with a greater majority by a national assemby may have a significant effect. In effect, the Synod General Assembly has the power to influence events - even create new plot opportunities - if they can muster a greater majority.
We have added a new class of judgement to call out the ability to respond to a Synod plot opportunity using liao. We have specified that this must use the wording provided by the original plot opportunity but included a defined route for players to introduce their own responses before the event begins.
Exemplars and Paragons
We have added new content on exemplars and paragons to give more definition on these key concepts in the Imperial faith by providing some schools of thought on them.
We have added a new game structure - the inspirational tomb. At present players can make exemplars and paragons - but have no way to get real content about them on to the wiki - which basically reflects the lack of any mechanism for them to make the exemplar/paragon *famous* (we've started referring to them together as "inspirations" in the text). If the players choose to create an inspiration tomb for their inspiration - the exemplar or paragon - then we guarantee to send NPCs out to talk to you - to get the info on the live and signs of the character - and to make a full detailed wiki page for them. Just bear in mind the high cost for this new ability - true liao! One dose of the most valuable substance in the Empire is needed to create an inspiration tomb.
We have also added context for the Custos Claves, a Highborn group who operate from Bastion where they build and curate shrines, churches and basilicas for the most virtuous exemplars and paragons. If the players are able to convince the Highborn of the virtues of their inspiration then the group will provide all the skills and experience needed to commission a suitable sinecure to commemorate their life. You have to pass a commission and provide the White Granite - the Custos Claves are neither rich nor all powerful - but using their skills in place of the civil service, means that the commission will not count against the Senate limit on commissions.
We have updated the information on gatekeepers to define specify how the PCs tell the NPCs what decision they have made. The question of how the gatekeepers make their choice has not been changed - just how they communicate their decision to us.
The original design work on the Synod was excellent and has stood the test of time well. Unfortunately the documentation on the wiki didn't reflect that - and in particular minor procedural changes which had been introduced over the years to keep the Synod running smoothly were not anywhere that new players could find them. Our core goal in overhauling the pages was to condense the material, make it easier to find and read, and present it in a format that was similar to the other parts of the wiki.
Some of the minor changes that were made over the last few years, like scrutiny or seeking the veto were done without full consideration of all the possible alternatives. The overhaul gave us a chance to examine those parts and see if there wasn't a better implementation. With scrutiny it was fairly easy to see that reducing the period from 4 hours to 3 hours would still allow plenty of time for players to consider a judgement - but meant that players would have an hour after time-in each day to get their judgement submitted - a clear improvement.
The old rules for "seeking the veto" were introduced on the fly to respond to the developing situation in the field. The approach worked, but it was crude and clearly ad hoc - required it's own special rules for scrutiny and was dubious on legal and constitutional grounds ("seeking" a veto was a crude flange we just made up to patch a flaw). The replacement means that the veto can follow all the regular rules for scrutiny without a problem - rather than seeking a veto, a player simply submits a judgement for one.
The introduction of the new power for the cardinals to move a voting deadline back was added to give a cardinal a little more power. The voting deadlines were not present when the cardinal was created. Creating the pages for the process identified this opportunity for an additional power.
The wiki allowed the Senate to decide if a new virtue appointment was done by the assembly or the cardinal - we have changed this so that the well worth constitutional path is that all new virtue appointments will be done by the assembly. Having the cardinal appoint the position was an extension of the way gatekeepers were appointed which was implemented without full consideration. In retrospect we are convinced that there is much more game in the virtue assemblies appointing virtue titles - rather than being directly appointed by the cardinal. We hope that it will also help to raise the profile of these important positions if they are being openly fought over by players.
There is a good argument that all virtue appointments should be done by the virtue assembly - we feel there is more game in that approach. But the powers of the gatekeeper are significant but very narrow - and they often play an important role supporting their cardinal which works well in play. So we have left them unchanged - but made clear that future virtue appointments should appointed by the assembly - to maximize the politics of the appointment. We are going to introduce an administrative motion at event one to allow the Senate to decide if they wish to change existing titles like the Virtue Inquisitor - to be changed to be inline with the well worn constitutional paths. We think the game will be better if they are - but we're more concerned with ensuring that all future titles follow the best approach than we are about correcting existing titles. If the Senate doesn't want to change them - that will be a perfectly valid IC decision that we'll respect. Basically we'll attempt to change them IC - through IC means - and drop the matter if the Senate rejects that attempt.
We have updated the civil service processes for judgements like inquisition, condemnation, veto and excommunication. We spent extensive time discussing how the target of these PvP attacks should find out what had happened. Our ideal with vetoes and similar is that the players will grandstand some public denunciation of the wrong-doing - we wanted to make sure that we left room for the players to maximize the drama of these vital synod functions. At the same time - as they are PvP we wanted to make sure that our civil servants were able to talk to players, let them know what was happening, what their options and what the might do about the attack on their character. The new approach gives us the flexibility to ensure that players know what is happening in the game.
The change to statement of principle is small but very significant. If the General Assembly passes a statement of principle with a greater majority - then it is guaranteed to have an effect of some kind. We'll look at any statement of principle that passes with a greater majority - though we'll only run plot with those that happen in the national assemblies if it is clear that there will be good plot and game on the field as a result. This gives the Synod direct control of a lever that they can use to influence events in the Empire. This change is part of an ongoing series of improvements to add more levers of this kind to the game to allow players to be more proactive and to give them greater control of the game. It won't be possible for the players to know what effect will happen - players second guessing or attempting to game the system will be disappointed - but players seeking a means to achieve a clear in-character goal will have a new way to achieve that.
The new judgement of mandate is the counterpoint to the improved statement of principle. It gives the players a clear definitive way to take a moral stand on a contemporary issue and authorize a priest to take action. Changing the mechanism to require the use of wording provided by the civil service removes a clear failure in the current system where players could pass a judgement in the field - but that failed to achieve the game effect because it didn't meet the criteria outlined in the opportunity. In effect we were being forced to judge someone's roleplaying to decide if passed or failed - which is something we try very hard to avoid. Now the decision is whether or not to pass the mandate - if that happens then the priest knows exactly what the outcome will be if they go through with it.
Although there have been very very few successful alternative wordings for the expenditure of liao in the past - we wanted to keep that possibility open as far as possible. But we also wanted to make sure that players could make informed decisions with the certain knowledge of what the outcome will be. Allowing players to email us with considerations before the event makes the process for trying a different option to those presented explicit - gives us time to judge how effective it might be - and leaves a small window to inform other players of the potential consequences if they decide to back that approach.
The two new additions to the rules for exemplars and paragons are designed to give the Synod new ways to reinforce the impact of their decisions. Our implementation of pages on the wiki for new exemplars has been virtually non-existent - a reflection of the large amount of work involved. We can't commit to that amount of work for every new exemplar or paragon made by the Synod (or by a new player group joining the game) - but we needed to have a mechanism for the players to be able to make their exemplar or paragon as famous as historical figures like Tian, Empress Richilde or Good Walder. Since doing that creates a huge amount of work - we wanted to set the cost high - so we opted for a dose of true liao.
We're well aware that many players consider it some kind of sacrilege against the patron saints of LRP to sacrifice a dose of plot-generating liao in this way. That's awesome because it ensures the cost of true liao remains sky high! It's the most expensive commodity in the Empire which is brilliant. Creating an inspirational tomb is meant to be an epic achievement - you've fundamentally changed the whole Empire by creating a figure that will live in its history forever. That isn't meant to be easy! The precious way that players horde true liao makes it the perfect cost for this ability. And you never know... maybe if someone ever does manage it they'll discover that there is more than one way to skin the plot generating cat...
In the setting Bastion is the site of many of the most important churches and basilicas for exemplars, paragons, and Empresses, but there was nothing in the setting to support that. We've added the Custos Claves to create a mechanism that supports the Synod in creating structures there. They can't help you get the construction past the Senate - or pay for the White Granite - but they can help with the commission itself. We know that commissions are in short supply - so having a free one if you build a sinecure in Bastion should be a neat incentive that reinforces the setting. In addition it adds a new dimension to the roleplaying around getting an exemplar passed by the Synod. If you can get enough political support to pass your judgement - you then have a chance to roleplay trying to convince a group of NPCs of the religious merits of your candidate. If you can persuade them - then they can offer real effort to your cause.
The change to the gatekeeper, specifying the mechanism by which they tell our NPCs what choice they have made was long overdue. The lack of any definition in the setting for the way the gatekeepers choose their candidates is odd - but that oddness has become a feature - something that makes that part of the game distinct. But while we don't mind how the players make their decision, we do need to be very clear about how they inform us. If we don't know what the mechanism for the players telling us their decision is - then we have no way to find out for certain what decision the players have made.
Basically we want the gatekeepers to argue about what decision to make - what we can't have is a situation in which they argue about whether or not a decision has been made. The update removes that essential contradiction - allowing the players the freedom to choose in any way they wish - but ensuring that when they make a decision then we will definitely know what the decision is.
There are some things that we were asked to change that we have not changed, of which the most important is witness. There is a common complaint that the Right of Witness is meaningless because all the official meetings of the state are open to everyone - so the Right of Witness has no effect there. However the private meetings that some citizens arrange are not subject to the Right of Witness, so there is game happening that priests cannot force their way into. This is all true - but subtly completely misses the entire purpose of the Right of Witness.
The purpose of Witness was never to make it impossible for players to hold secret meetings. Empire is a game of politics - having secrets, creating them, discovering them, spreading them is part of the enjoyment of the game. The last thing we want to do is make it impossible for players to have secret meetings. But the risk of any political game is that the entire political process becomes a secret - obscured behind closed doors it becomes impossible for most players to view it and thus to see what is happening. There are perfectly good in-character reasons why Empire players would choose to lock everyone out of a meeting of the Military Council - or why Senate decisions would be taken behind closed doors. Such an approach might benefit the Empire But we were confident that such an approach would be bad for the game.
The Right of Witness is, a kind of [externality]. It existence renders private meetings of the Senate or the Military Council legally impossible. Our preferred outcome in making it impossible to prohibit priests from these meetings is not to give priests special access - rather it is to make players accept the impossibility of making these meetings secret. It is a small step from accepting that if you can't keep 250 Synod priests out of your Senate session then you might as well have a viewing gallery and let everyone in. The existence of the Right of Witness is not intended to benefit priests - it is intended to benefit every player in the game - by forcing a significant portion of the political game to be resolved in public where any player can see it and get involved.
We have also been asked to look if we can improve the rules regarding religious crimes to give greater agency to the players over these important laws. Our response to that request is likely to involve producing new guidelines - like those issued for clemency - to try to help everyone understand how the law is interpreted and applied by our NPCs. We believe a more transparent process will benefit everyone. Any additional guidelines will take time to write - but may hopefully be available on the wiki before the end of the year.
We have updated the procedures for characters who lose an Imperial Bourse seat. The new rules state that the seat will receive back what they paid for the seat in proportion to the amount of production remaining. The original rules giving a re-auction were complex and legally inconsistent with the idea of a contract between the state the citizen. In essence if the contract is broken by the Empire - then the Empire repays what was paid.
Crucially we have removed the line that the proceeds of the auction of an excommunicated bourse seat holder go to the virtue fund of the Synod. In practice, it is near certain that under the old rules, any Bourse seat holder would simply have resigned their position moments before a judgement passed against them. Thus they would have recouped what they paid or more back anyway.
However that would have led to arguments about the validity and timing of the resignation and players disappointed when the excommunication power did not work as expected. Removing this option makes the legal system simpler and much more consistent (the removal of a seat is treated the same no matter how it happens) and critically ensures that everyone involved can see what the likely outcomes are when they make their IC decisions.
We've also removed the ability to get your money back if you resign. That gave too much leeway for players to get their money back if they foolishly overpaid at the auctions - the Bourse is meant to a high-stakes game, not one where you can change your mind at the drop of a hat. Removing that element has allowed us to further simply the rules over the repayment.
We have made a number of changes to the running of the Conclave, summarized below:
- Gambits have been removed. The entire system was not creating the kind of game we intended, so we have removed it completely.
- Free minutes of discussion have been removed. Previously the first person nominated by each grandmaster in each round of discussion after a gambit spoke for free. Going forward everyone has to pay for their minutes during the discussion.
- (ETA) A line referencing an ability to the civil service to allow people to speak was removed.
- No more question and answer sessions. Anyone making an address or declaration, or speaking in response to them, has to speak themselves. In keeping with the Principle of Presence it is no longer possible to engage in question and answer sessions, or allow someone else to talk substantially on your behalf during the minutes you have paid for.
- Declarations come into effect at the end of the session. Previously there had been some confusion about when a declaration before the Conclave came into effect. All declarations now take effect at the end of the session
- Precedence is calculated at the start of the event. Rather than calculating precedence based on the attendance of Conclave, we are establishing precedence shortly before the start of each event using the number of magicians who possess each order's Arcane Mark as recorded on our database. We intend to make this calculation as close as possible to time-in to take into account gate bookings wherever possible. Previously precedence involved a great deal of counting and would regularly delay the start of the Conclave session.
- Grandmasters receive their order's resources. Going forward, the grandmaster of each order gets the resources that were previously locked in the conclave vaults. We've coupled this with an explicit statement that the grandmaster is responsible for using these resources to the benefit of their order and in pursuit of their order's goals.
- Grandmasters may be challenged. A system whereby members of an order may declare a lack of confidence in their grandmaster, triggering a new election, has been introduced.
- Sorcerors do not lose their resources. Previously, sorcerors lost their personal resource if it was a mana site and it became the property of the Conclave. We have removed this stricture. A sorceror still keeps their mana site. Although it is illegal for them to carry the mana it produces, it is acceptable for them to pass the mana to an ally before the game begins.
- Archmages deal with eternals. The archmagi have gained two new powers - plenipotentiary and parley.
- (ETA) Declaration of the Balance has been removed. This declaration was potentially extremely time consuming and disruptive for minimal benefits and has been largely superseded by the ability for order members to challenge their grandmasters.
There may be additional tweaks to the wiki in line with these changes over the next week, and we are still discussing a few procedural and implementation points which should be clarified in the next few days.
The Conclave represents a fascinating design challenge in Empire because of it's mass participation nature. The more players who participate in the Conclave game - the slower the game runs and the less enjoyable it becomes. Obviously the point your character is raising is incredibly important - but the more players who are present the greater the chance that you will have to listen to speeches that don't interest you personally from other players.
Any format like this in a LRP game risks reaching a stable equilibrium at the point where it gets sufficiently large that almost everyone is unhappy with it. If more players join - then everyone gets less happy with the resulting game - so some players drop out. As more players drop out of the Conclave game, it speeds up and gets more enjoyable. It is quite possible that there is literally no way to build a Conclave game that won't ultimately result in a situation where everyone is unhappy at how long the meetings are, if that unhappiness is the only check on the length of the meetings.
That caveat aside, we spent the winter reviewing the extensive feedback from the Summer about the Conclave - reading player experiences of the Conclave and looking at the things they enjoyed and how we could support that. The review made clear that there were improvements that we could make to the Conclave to ensure it ran more efficiently. Generally we know that things that make the Conclave run more efficiently are likely to be relatively popular. At best these changes might result in shorter, more enjoyable meetings which would be great. But even if they don't then the Conclave would be at least as enjoyable as it is now - but with more players involved.
Removing the counts of order size before each session is an obvious way to reduce the drag on the sessions. It also reduces our paperwork and administration which allows us to spend that time improving other parts of the game. Crucially it gets away from a model in which grandmasters might be inclined to encourage players who don't enjoy the Conclave game to turn up so that they can count for precedence. There's no evidence that that was happening - but that is the model that the old approach encouraged. On the face of it it encourages participation - but people who are enjoying the Conclave game don't need encouragement to attend - we want players who don't enjoy the Conclave game to find their fun elsewhere.
Removing free minutes to respond to issues is intended to help speed up the Conclave and reduce the potential for "I agree" speeches. One of the essential elements of the Conclave that was designed to try and keep meetings short was to charge people 1 mana crystal per minute to speak. The goal is to say to people that you shouldn't be talking in Conclave if you don't have something worthwhile to say. The idea of free minutes to respond to declarations really undermined this because it gave people a chance to speak without paying for everyone's time - and worse it encouraged people to say things "so as not to waste the free minute".
The change removing the possibility for question and answer sessions has a similar intent - to keep the meetings tightly focussed and prevent drift into conversation. We want conversation to happen - but not in the Conclave when someone has the floor. The time for magicians to be engaging in politics and discussions is in smaller groups before and after the Conclave. We want to encourage that kind of politics to happen outside the Conclave session.
The change to gambits is very different. It was clear from the feedback that many players didn't enjoy the gambits, they did not work as a public spectacle. Crucially we felt that the gambits had failed to achieve the kind of political game we had hoped for - almost all gambits passed, most were equally funded by each order. There was surprisingly little evidence that the different political ambitions of the orders were having a significant influence on which gambits they were prepared to fund. Even worse was the appearance of gambits to get the mana crystals out of the vault so that the grandmaster could use - we didn't have a problem with the grandmasters having the crystals - we're all in favour of a bit of corruption - it's good for the game. But there didn't seem to be much game in having the grandmasters agree to give themselves their own mana.
By giving the entire contents of an order's vault to the grandmaster at the start of every event, we make the administration of the game considerably easier but more importantly we hope to encourage a strong sense of ownership of the mana crystals by the grandmaster (and her order). The previous system - in which access to the vaults had to be agreed collectively meant that there was unwanted pressure for that access to be for the common good. In effect we had a fairly unique economic phenomena - a sort of reverse tragedy of the commons. Instead of a collective good - that could be accessed individually (which in classic economic theory leads to ruin) we had a personal good - that could only be accessed collectively. So instead of parochial, political, selfish, corrupt use of an order's mana - which is what we would want to happen - we saw the opposite.
We hope that the change will encourage grandmasters to meet with members of their order, to discuss their vaults and how they will use the contents to further their order's ambitions. We hope that grandmasters will think twice about paying a mana crystal for a magician to stand up and say "I agree" when that is one less mana crystal that they could be using for their own personal enchantments. We are optimistic that there will still be just as much game as there ever was for magicians who want to access the Conclave's vaults - but now that game will take place outside of Conclave. Now you will have to convince the Grandmaster of the Rod and Shield why your magical experiment benefits her order's objectives, rather than having to present a single picture of how your plan benefits everyone.
Of course it's possible that grandmasters will simply pocket the lot and be sitting pretty as the most magically rich citizens in the Empire. Great! Corruption is great for the game and definitely something we're always looking for ways to encourage where possible. However we need checks and balances - levers for players to pull to oppose such chicanery - so that politics and game can happen. So we have removed the declaration of balance which was not fit for purpose and replaced it with a new mechanism for replacing a grandmaster.
The old mechanism was incredibly difficult to access and worse it risked chewing through the precious time in Conclave to allow an order to settle their internal disputes. We want that game to happen - but we want it to happen outside Conclave - 70 members of the Rod and Shield probably don't want to wait 15 minutes while the Shuttered Lantern decide who their grandmaster is going to be. The new change means that the issue is decided internally by the order - it makes it far easier for an order to replace their grandmaster, so grandmasters will have to consider what steps they have to take to keep the backing of their order.
Removing gambits is obviously a blow to those that had them - the archmagi, the Warmage, Bursar and the Imperial Seer where the Senate motion to receive a gambit was under consideration by the Constitutional Court. The Bursar and the Imperial Seer are particularly badly affected - since neither title has any major legal powers. The Senate and the Conclave are in a position to ensure that all these positions remain relevant through the decisions they take in the game - but we are also looking at the issue of those titles that were given gambits by the players but no longer have them to see if we can help in some way.
Although the Warmage gained the gambit in the original major revision of Conclave, it was never a core part of the game design that the representative from the Conclave to the Military Council - the magician tasked with representing them to the generals should have enhanced powers to draw on the resources of the Conclave. That set-up risked the position operating the other way round in practice - with the Warmage representing the Military Council to the Conclave and using a gambit to let them know what the Military Council wanted from them. Now we hope that the Warmage will be able to negotiate directly with each grandmaster to let them know what the Military Council are planning and see what the orders are prepared to do to help.
However the archmagi lack that essential constituency. It's clear why a grandmaster might give aid to the Warmage - and by extension the Military Council because that would help the Empire fights its wars. It's not clear at all why the grandmasters would offer any help or support to the archmagi now that they no longer needed their participation in the gambit process. We have always felt that the archmage should have a clear focus on magic - on being a magician - and on using the power and influence of their realm. So it made sense to try and create a new power for the archmage that exemplified that.
We know that players have long wanted a way to contact eternals. The original mechanism at the start of the game - where any player could send any number of messages to any number of eternals was utterly broken. There are more players than there are plot writers - we simply could not keep up with the flow of requests and so many of them were just getting no response. We put a stop to that - and that gave us time to redesign a new mechanism - one where players can contact any eternal - and be pro-active about creating new opportunities for the Empire and their characters - but which is limited in number so that we can ensure that we can guarantee a response. It might not be the response you want... but something will happen. All it needed was to find the right mechanism to put that into play to give players a way to fight over it - and the archmage was the perfect opportunity to do that.
Finally we changed the rules so that sorcerers do not lose their resource. There are various technical reasons for this - it didn't make any sense at all under the existing rules framework The point of personal resources is to ensure that every character has a little wealth in their pack that they can choose to use as they wish. Of course they may give it away, commit it to the war-effort, or spend it in the bar - but that's their character choice. Taking that away made no game for anyone and just encouraged the Conclave to declare people sorcerors to try and improve their income which was nonsense - so we have cut that.
Since the election of the Empress, the civil service had had the need to review all their procedures to ensure that they are inline with the actual rules laid down in law. These changes reflect corrections to errors arising from the time of emergency.
We have changed the way the Mercenary Banner magical item works. It can now only be used during the Muster of the Imperial Military Council, in the presence of an Imperial general who agrees to accept an oath of service from a member of the band. This will form a binding magical contract - the players in the band can then only take the field with the general they are serving rather than their own nation. This means we will be able to update the figures for the battle to ensure that the numbers of volunteers remains balanced for each battle.
We have also increased the cost to make the item.
Mercenary banners pose a number of significant logistical problems in Empire. Once we had run a few events, we quickly identified that the single most important factor in determining the difficulty of a battle was the number of opponents on the field. It was clear that the starting point for providing enjoyably challenging battles was to ensure that we had a roughly similar number of participants on both sides. Bolstering our numbers with our skirmish crew helps - but it wasn't enough to produce a cool engagement if there were significantly more players than volunteer monsters.
In most cases, the Military Council were making choices designed to roughly balance the sides. To ensure that happened, we provided them with a framework and statistics to support that. At the point we did that, mercenary banners became more problematic. We give the Imperial generals an in-character requirement to balance the forces they send to each battle - to reflect the out-of-character game requirements - but the mercenary banners allowed them or any group of players to throw those numbers completely out of line. The banner allowed a single sizeable group of players to take a perfectly reasonable IC decision to switch sides - rendering pointless all the politics of the Council and damaging the event for everyone.
Sadly mercenaries are fundamentally problematic in LRP. The underlying economic principles behind mercenaries simply do not work well in any game with a functioning economy. In the real world, you pay mercenaries to fight instead of you - to take risks instead of you. As a result there is an economic calculation that takes place balancing risk and reward. But in live roleplaying, taking risks is the point of the game. Paying someone to fight instead of you is akin to paying someone to enjoy the event instead of you. It doesn't make much sense, in fact I suspect it would be possible to get many players to pay for the opportunity to be in a fight. After-all they've already paid out-of-character money to be there - what's a few more in-character coins on top?
In play some players will roleplay paying to hire mercenaries - perhaps because it seems the right thing to do. Most of us are sufficiently familiar with the genre of the hard-bitten mercenary to understand how it is supposed to work - but it is hard to mitigate the problems caused by the misalignment between OOC and IC incentives. The negotiation between a general and a mercenary captain should play like that cool scene from Game of Thrones when Daenerys Targaryen tries to convince the Second Sons mercenary force to change sides. I've played a mercenary captain in LRP - it's how I wanted the scene to play out in my head - but it rarely did.
Unforunately in a game like Empire, mercenaries suffer from another problem. In a game that is all about loyalty, about the bonds that tie you to other groups, nations, and to the Empire - being loyal to yourself and your employer is not an advantage. Empire is a political game - the core focus of the game is the interactions that come from the interplay of loyalties and conflicting agendas between player-characters. Mercenaries are at severe risk of being cut out of much of this game - and the more implacable they are about playing the archetype to the full - the more likely they are to be treated as nothing more than a mercenary. Some of the feedback we received, exhorting us to keep mercenaries at any cost, sadly demonstrated this very effect - that playing a mercenary runs a very high risk of becoming your only fun in the game. By leaving them in - we are basically giving players an opportunity to have a bad time.
It's perfectly in-character for an Imperial citizen to shun a mercenary. Historically mercenaries were often socially ostracized and the genre is generally full of tales of mercenaries who face contempt and hostility from the rest of society. On paper that sounds a brilliant roleplaying challenge - social conflict is the basis for the game after-all. But if contempt and hostility slides into isolation - then instead of a brilliant roleplaying challenge the mercenary character simply finds themselves cut out of the social game, possibly without even realizing why that is happening or even that it is taking place at all.
So I argued with my colleagues for most of winter that we should cut the mercenary banner - and if necessary find a way to rewrite the League brief. I am not happy being responsible for a game if I'm not confident that every part of what we are offering offers the as many opportunities for great roleplaying as possible. It's quite possible that you can play a League mercenary and have a great time - but it's a significant concern to me that you could fail to enjoy the event because you'd chosen to play a League mercenary. I fear that it can be the Empire equivalent of the dark brooding stranger who sits alone in the tavern - a great idea on paper - a terrible character concept in practice. Worst of all - because it risks cutting you off from the wider political game, the danger is that the player doesn't even realize that it is their character archetype (something PD has provided as a cool concept to play in the game) that is the reason that they have been cut out of the game. Playing a mercenary in Empire can be a trap - it promises fun - but may not deliver.
In the end, we decided not to do it. If I had my time over again, if we were writing the game tomorrow, I would not hesitate to excise mercenaries from the game. I don't believe they provide the kind of enjoyment that other characters archetypes can - and the risk is that they detract from your game much more than they add. It's possible we'd spend some time coming up with something better - something cooler - but I've spent years wrestling with mercenaries in LRP and never been very satisfied with the results.
But changing any rule or part of the setting comes with a cost. Most rule changes impact on players to some extent but they can adapt their play style accordingly. The cost of that change is paid over time by the benefits in terms of the overall improvement to the game. But if you're playing a mercenary - if that is your character concept - then removing them from the game is not something you can adapt your play style to cope with. It is going to wreck your game. Provided we were able to ensure that the existence of mercenaries wasn't negatively impacting the game for others (by wrecking the play balance of the battles) then it seemed better to keep them and let players who were enjoying playing them continue to do so.
So that left us ensuring that the mercenary banner would be available in the game - but would not impact the ratio of volunteers to players on the battles. The new rules that we've implemented do make it trickier to use a mercenary banner - but hopefully not in a way that cuts down play options for those using them. It's even possible that mandating their use during the muster will actually help mercenary groups be more involved in the military and political game, which would be a boon if that happened. It will mean more complex administration for us, as we will have to track the size of the group using the mercenary banner - so that we can update the in-character figures used to balance the battles accordingly. But that's a price worth paying if it means people can continue to enjoy the game.
What it does leave is a risk that people will use mercenary banners to try to circumvent the rules of the Military Council. The new rules are clear that the banner only affects those characters bonded to it at the time it is used. Players cannot change sides after the muster is over, joining a group who has changed sides has no effect. But it's possible for players to get confused, or even think it's ok to ignore them. I am very conscious that passions can run high when a group of characters believe that they should be fighting on the other side in a battle. Obviously if that does happen then we'd need to revisit the decision to remove mercenary banners completely. I'm optimistic that won't happen though, provided that the players with the banners understand and respect the rules for using them.
We've increased the cost of the banner a little. Making it more expensive discourages a banner from acquiring one unless having the ability to fight in the other battle is genuinely crucial to their character and to their game. In practice, since a number of groups were assuming you needed multiple banners for large groups, (which was never the case for a mercenary banner), the effective cost will be less for some existing groups.
It does mean that a banner will need to ensure that their list of group members is up-to-date! If you are the administrative contact for your banner then you can check the group membership online at any time. If you are not a member of your banner - and you should be - then email us before the first event and we'll fix that.
- We have created a new class of potion - philtres - which can be correctly identified by any character
- Several basic restorative potions have been changed from being potions to being philtres
Elixir Vitae, Philtre of Strength, Skop’s Mead, MageBlood, Philtre of Heavenly Lore, Bloodharrow Philtre, Feverfail Elixir, Ossean Balm, and Anodyne Embrocation have all be changed to be philtres rather than regular potions.
Philtres use a card - like a herb or mana crystal - with all the rules for that item printed on it, instead of using a rip-open lammy like a regular potion. This means that any character can correctly identify a philtre with a quick glance at the accompanying card.
The rules for using a potion are not changed. It still requires five seconds of appropriate roleplaying - that is taking the potion bottle, removing the stopper, and drinking the contents - to use it. However you can then rip the card more quickly and take the effects described immediately without having to spend time to check the potion is what it appears to be.
In any LRP system it is crucial that the rules mechanisms that underpin the game must be applicable within the context in which that part of the game happens.
Rituals and spells represent an easy example of how this principle is applied in Empire. A ritual involves complex rules, so it requires at least a few minutes to perform the ritual to allow the referee time to process it. Spells are needed in the pitched heat of a battle - you can't have a spell that a character might legitimately expect to cast quickly in the heat of a battle take time to process. The application of the rules would be too intrusive and would impact the utility of the spell. The potency of the spell would then become a factor of how quickly the ref could process it - not how well the character used it.
Our current potion rules require the player to rip open a laminated strip and read the text written inside, after they have completed the five seconds of appropriate roleplaying. For most potions this is fine, if you are performing a powerful night ritual then it doesn't matter if the ref needs 30 seconds to rip open and read three potions to check what they do and how they affect your ritual.
But for common potions explicitly designed to be used in the heat of battle, the requirement to rip open and then read the lammy, required an amount of OOC time to administer and process that was not commensurate with the situations in which these potions were commonly used. In effect - the play balance of the item was coming down to how fast you could rip open the laminate. It is understandable - if unfortunate - that given those criteria, players had a tendency to do anything possible to reduce the amount of additional OOC time required to use the potion.
The new rules fix for philtres address this mismatch between the rules for how you use the item and the situations in which you use it. By putting the rules on a card - you know at a glance what the potion does - and the card can be ripped the same way a herb or mana card would be.
We haven't switched every potion to being a philtre, because there is an obvious trade off with the new cards - that they reduce the amount of mystery and roleplaying regarding what a potion does. Under the current rules for potions, any character who recognizes the physical description of the potion can be fairly certain they have correctly identified it - but the more obscure the potion the harder it is to identify. That means there is a degree of hard skill in being able to recognize and identify potions (which we regard as a positive), or that players create in-character books of lore to help them identify potions (even better!).
We want to maintain that element of the game as far as possible - so the overwhelming majority of potions have not been changed. These potions will still use a laminated strip of paper - and you must rip open the laminate and read what is written inside before you take the effects.
Please note that although it is perfectly legal to add an in-character label to the phys-rep for a potion - you must not write the in-character name of the potion on the out-of-character lammy - your character can label the bottle - the player can not add additional information to the lammy.
- The heroic skill that allowed two-handed weapon wielders to call Shatter has been replaced with one allowing them to call Impale
Players who had weapon master and hero points were able to buy a skill called shattering blow that allowed them to expend a hero point to call Shatter when they made an appropriate roleplayed blow with a great weapon. This skill has been replaced with a new skill called mortal blow that allows a character to expend a hero point to call Impale when they made an appropriate roleplayed blow with a great weapon.
The new skill will automatically replace the old skill for any character that had bought it.
Two-handed weapons are often weak in live roleplaying because they lack the advantages of power and penetration that such weapons had in reality. Partly to compensate for this we gave them the most potent heroic call to make up for the relative advantages of other weapons.
Although this approach succeeded in making great weapons potent on the Empire battlefield, it had negative consequences in terms of player experience. Shatter is a disabling call, unless you can have your weapon restored you are unable to carry on fighting. While that is a better in-character outcome than being killed, it can be less satisfying player experience than having your character dropped, simply because you're rendered ineffective. It is also something that is almost impossible to stop using hard skills, you can't parry or block a shattering blow.
There is very definitely a place for the Shatter call in the game - but we feel that it will be better play balance to allow wizards to access the call. They cannot wear armour and hence are easily countered in other ways whereas warriors are usually wearing substantial armour.
We still wanted warriors using great weapons to be potent on the battlefield - so we have switched the call for Impale. Given that the majority of our barbarian orcs on the battlefield use medium armour, we anticipate that this will still be a very effective call - we think it's better than the Strikedown call available to polearm wielders and it's clearly better than the Cleave call available to warriors using a one-handed weapon.
There will be some updates to the magical weapons and rituals over time to bring them into line with the new call regime for great weapons in Empire.
We have made a number of changes designed to improve battle magicians. We've added a new potent spell - shatter, improved the empower spell by reducing the cost, improved the paralysis spell by changing the limitations removing the protection provided by heavy armour and increased the amount of mana available to characters that purchase extra mana. We have also clarified that spells such as entangle and repel still take effect even if they are parried or hit a shield.
The original design brief for Empire viewed the battlefield as a location for warriors to dominate - a location where those who had fighting skills would come to the fore. Crucially what we didn't want was a situation where wizards were simply more potent combatants than warriors. In practice however, it is clear that the Empire rules system allows for two very distinct types of wizard - the ritualist - and the battle mage. The former has a distinct role on the battlefield - there are certain battlefield rituals that can be invaluable in the right circumstances - but generally their main role takes place at Anvil. Battle magicians however are a very different case - like warriors the prime opportunity to use their skills is on the battlefield. The right balance for the game design would be to make them different to warriors on the battlefield - but equally useful.
The most common feedback around battle magicians tends to focus on mage armour - with people wanting it to provide resistance to Cleave or even Impale - the way regular armour does. That change would be a major mistake however - since it would make battle mages much closer to regular warriors. In a system where warriors have access to heroic abilities, the critical distinction between battle mages and warriors is their ability to take a blow. What was needed to improve battle magicians is to make the array of their offensive abilities stronger.
We have changed the cost to get access to hero points and to buy additional hero points. Under the new rules the required skill to get access to heroic abilities is called Hero. It costs 2 character points and grants you two hero points that you can use to overcome roleplaying effects. Extra hero points will now be a 1* skill.
The character point cost of every character will be automatically recalculated in the next few weeks to use the new formula. Characters who have bought a single level of hero points at present will thus be in deficit by a single point - these characters will not be automatically changed by us - but will not be able to spend additional character points until they have earned enough xp to pay for their current skills.
We've changed the way the cost of hero points and extra hero points are calculated for a number of reasons. It means the skill is less accessible for characters to dip into but more accessible for characters to focus on - which encourages specialization making it easier for characters to differentiate themselves from each other. It simplifies the maths of calculating hero points and additional hero points and brings the cost of these abilities into line with the cost for extra mana.
Healing and Swift Casting
We have changed the time required to cast regular spells to thirty seconds, and changed the amount of healing provided by a Swift Heal to 3 hits rather than all of them. This is part of a change across the system so that heals that return all your hits (like True Vervain) will now take thirty seconds to apply, while any source of healing that returns your hits instantly or in a few seconds (like Second Wind, healing potions, Swift Heal) only returns up to 3 hits lost.
As part of this change we have removed the Swift Heal spell and the Purge spell (effectively Swift Purify spell) and instead said that any magician that has the Heal spell or the Purify spell can choose to cast these spells in a few seconds for two mana rather than one (with reduced effects in the case of Swift Heal). We have extended this change across the magic system so that all regular spells now take thirty seconds to cast, but can all be cast in a few seconds for an additional mana.
At present, healing on the battlefield is exceptionally fast. A character with a dozen hits or more can have them all restored virtually instantaneously - a problem even more acute for us when fielding large monsters that might have a score of hits or more. One of the impacts of this is that units on the battlefield that have been mauled by their opponents can be back in the fight with very little time needed to regroup and lick their wounds. That makes it harder for us to create dynamic challenges for the players on the battlefield - and because healing is cheap and plentiful, it is harder for us to challenge players and make them feel threatened.
The new rules make healing more expensive - either it is considerably slower - or it provides less hits restored for most characters. We hope that this will make battles more threatening for characters - who have more chance of running out of resources if they are being hard pressed - and more strategic for generals and unit-commanders who will have to need to take account of the need to rest units for slightly longer after they have engaged.
Having decided on the core changes, we felt it was appropriate to remove the swift heal and swift purify as spells - and instead make them free abilities granted by purchasing the heal and purify spell. This increases the availability of these abilities to any players who have invested points into them - so that any magician who can cast heal can automatically cast either version. The changes to the time required to cast regular spells - and the option to swift-cast them - has been applied to all spells for consistency although it is primarily relevant for the mend spell and the restore limb spell. Voice for the dead has been reduced in cost to a single mana point to reflect it's limited utility and to bring it into line with the other regular spells.
We have changed the rules so that you cannot enter someone else's IC tent once it has been sealed.
Any set of game rules has to balance different abstractions and the needs and interests of different players. Ideally rules should deliver the experience that the game organizers have claimed they seek to offer, but at the very least they should form part of a coherent package that embodies the core ideals for the game.
Although we have become accustomed to ignoring them, the abstractions around theft are particularly acute in live roleplaying. Empire is a game in which some of the players represent some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in the land - and yet they regularly store vast fortunes in tents and have no guards - because tents are what we have and because Empire actively discourages guards (because we'd rather players found other more active roleplaying during the event). Robbing tents - particularly robbing tents while players have left them to go and sleep in their out-of-character sleeping area or while they are on the battlefield is a particularly odd quirk that is dependent on the limitations of the hobby.
However there is a vastly more serious problem with the current rules for stealing. Profound Decisions have made very clear that we will not tolerate language that makes reference to non-consensual sexual activity - yet the old rules permitted players to enter tents in which adults or children were sleeping. It is not consistent to try to eliminate verbal references to non-consensual activity but leave individuals in situations in which they may be awakened by discovering a stranger has entered their bedroom. Suggestions made for requiring people for whom this is a concern to sleep in the out-of-character area do not take into account the difficulty of bring two tents to the field. It's part of our approach to live roleplaying to try to ensure that our events do what is possible to provide a safe-space for people to roleplay, not to make it more difficult for them. The current rules did not meet those criteria.
Obviously the new rules will have a very significant detrimental impact on the amount of theft that takes place in the game. We understand and acknowledge that. We've tried to be clear in Empire that we are striving to deliver a grand game of politics and war, where people can build and lose empires. Crime has a very definite role to play in the game - but robbing tents has never been part of the game experience that we were trying to deliver for players. We looked at methods to try and create a balance between the players being robbed and the players doing the robbing - but at the point where it became clear that players were prepared to enter people's sleeping quarters to rob them while they were asleep then we had to make a decision about which game we were going to support. Because of the game's focus we have chosen to take steps to ensure that everyone can attend the event without fear of being awoken by a stranger in their bedroom.
We have combined a heavily modified version of this effect into the second wind ability.
The original design intent for the unstoppable skill was to reflect the hardy warrior who was difficult to put down. The character can take blow after blow, fall to the ground - but through sheer force of will rise back to their feet and carry on fighting. The goal was to reflect the heroic archetypes of great warriors of the fantasy trope.
In practice, the skill didn't really achieve this design goal very well. Because you got back up on one hit - you weren't really effective as a combatant. Instead what it was often used for was playing possum on the floor while the enemy moved on and then leaping to your feet and making a run for your lines, hoping to get back before you were chopped down. We did consider changing the name from "unstoppable" to better reflect it's usage, but there were other more significant problems with the skill.
One problem is the skill tends to break the fourth-wall in various ways that were unhelpful. Orcs who have downed a wounded Imperial character are conscious of the fact that the character has a significant chance of standing back up again so they have to move on... to allow that to happen. Of course, logically in a world in which characters possess the unstoppable ability, cutting the throats of characters that are downed is logically - something we're keen not to encourage monsters or players to do.
By combining the two skills into one but limiting the skill so it can only be used as you hit the deck we hope we will better achieve the original design intent to reflect the unstoppable warrior who just keeps on attacking - but also remove elements of looking at downed characters and monsters and thinking "are they all just going to leap back to their feet in a moment".
We have a new heroic skill to the game - relentless. A character with this skill may expend one hero point to regain the use of a single cleaved or impaled limb.
We added this because there was a space for it and we think it's cool.
The rules for grappling have been changed. If you wish to grapple or use body contact then both participants must ask permission from a referee present. If the ref is happy that both parties are keen to grapple and in their assessment it is safe to do so, then they will allow it for that fight. It is not possible to grapple or use body contact on quests, skirmishes, or battles under any circumstances.
We have also made clear that the rules that prohibit fighting while inebriated also extend to grappling. It is not permissible for a character to fight in anyway at Empire if the player has been drinking that day.
There have been incidents at the last few events where monsters have been grappled on quests and battles with absolutely no attempt of any kind to obtain permission. The reality is that battles are high adrenaline moments that take place in the woods where there are numerous environmental hazards. There are no situations where we are happy to have grappling take place in the quest area and we have changed the rules to make that restriction explicit.
Sadly there have also been situations in Anvil (particularly late at night in the Senate) where players are getting involved in grappling while drunk and with no attempt to ensure that the other party is keen to do so. This has resulted in tempers flaring and grappling rapidly becoming out-of-character. The individuals in question have been given a warning, but we have changed the rules so that you can only grapple in a small fight with the permission of the referee. You can expect the referee not to refuse to give permission if they are satisfied that both parties are sober and keen to grapple with each other and that the area is safe to do so.
Grappling in Empire is appropriate in cinematic duels and fights where both parties have indicated that they wish to do so. We don't see any need to stop that - and we believe that the new rules will present little restriction for players who are sensible about it. But the majority of players attending Empire are very keen not to be grappled by people they have not given permission to grapple and we want to ensure that they can enjoy the game without concern.
We have changed the definition of what creatures are immune to calls in Empire. Only Monstrous Creatures, threats that are phys-repped using bulky all-encompassing full-body costumes such as the ice giant or the Grendel drakes will be immune to calls from now on. Ogres - and creatures with a similar phys-rep - are now affected by calls normally.
We have also made clear that Monstrous Creatures cannot be healed on a battlefield using normal means.
Over time it has become clear that there are significant problems involved with large creatures. Because the only phys-rep requirement was to have a costume designed to make the wearer look bigger, the costume for ogres and other creatures was focussing too strongly on this element - and not strongly enough on the overall appearance. Using shoulder pads and similar made it much harder for the monsters to fight, because of the encumbrance. In essence we were hamstringing the monster volunteer just to meet the minimum phys-rep requirements for the creature to be large.
In play it has become clear that the ability of creatures just larger than a human to ignore calls was detrimental to the player experience. It is exactly this kind of creature that a warrior or magician would want to use their abilities on - so a character fighting toe-to-toe against such a beast should expect to be able to do so. Nullifying character abilities at the point of optimum use is not good game design - but the problem is particularly acute when those creatures are relatively common.
Crucially defining our powerful monsters by their size was at odds with our guidelines on equality and diversity. Inevitably the creatures that are immune to calls are seen as one of the most appealing monsters to play on the battlefield. Unfortunately it was impossible for a third of our player base to visibly meet the requirements for large creatures - adding shoulder pads to a short participant was insufficient to make them look large. This contributed to a problem that has been identified in recent years in which short players (which because of human anatomy often means female players) were not being given exciting roles to play when monstering battles. We're keen to ensure that everyone who volunteers to monster for us gets opportunities to play roles on the battlefield based on their ability to portray them and not their physique.
Monstrous creatures that are phys-repped using a full body costume will remain immune to calls. While it is not ideal for any player ability to fail in any situation, threats like these are intended to be fought and taken-down by entire units of players. These monsters need special methods to defeat them, they don't go toe-to-toe with individual characters and so they don't fall over to a single arrow or heroic blow.
Changing the definition of a monstrous creature from size to a bulky full-body costume, we can ensure that the physique of the person playing the role is irrelevant.