Overview

This page collects a number of short essays about Empire, usually from the game team. The tone is usually quite informal, and the posts tend to be taken from various places around Facebook. There's also a page of articles from the crew about what they do during events which you can find here.

IC Footwear

  • Matt talking about why costume does not stop at the ankle. (05/05/2020)

The idea that costume stops at the ankle literally makes no sense in Empire - where white trainers are explicitly banned while IC. That rule exists because we judge that what you wear on your feet has an impact on the immersion for everyone.

If you can get good looking IC footwear then that's fantastic. It really adds to any costume and can be the finishing touch that makes a good costume look great. It's a subtle thing - you often won't notice it - but time spent improving your IC footwear will improve any costume.

The issue with IC footwear is that it's subject to two significant OOC compromises. (a) it's often expensive to buy and difficult to make and (b) you want warm, dry feet and to have good ankle support.

Now actually - there's nothing unique about footwear in that regard. If you're getting plate armour for your character it will be expensive and difficult to make and it needs to fit well or it will be a safety risk for you. If you're getting *any* costume together - you need to think about staying warm and dry at the event.

But the compromises are particularly expensive for IC footwear. It is hard to get hold of, very hard to make (I have made a pair of IC boots - it can be done!) and you're going to want ankle support and have warm dry feet while in a cold, wet, muddy field. All sensible LRPers understand these compromises and that's why people tend to say "costume stops at the ankle" but it's neither true nor helpful. It's just a lot quicker than what I'm typing here.

If you're fairly new to LRP then IC footwear is the last thing you want to be thinking about. I own more pairs of IC footwear than I do OOC footwear... but I've been LRPing for 20+ years... And this is literally my job... If you're on a limited budget (and who isn't on a limited budget?) then there's usually much better ways to use your budget to improve your costume than getting IC footwear until you've been LRPing for years.

If you're starting out and you already own a pair of brown or black boots of some kind then they'll be great for IC footwear. Sure they're not perfect - but costume is never perfect. But they'll be fine to use in game, and they'll keep your safe and dry. You can use wellies if you want to when it's muddy - again if you can get black or brown ones then that's best. Dark coloured trainers are acceptable at a push - but not something I'd recommend unless they also have good grip and ankle support.

If you want to start improving on that - then making or buying some gaiters can be a great step. Done right they can hide some of the modern details of boots or shoes without costing too much or compromising on those all important OOC concerns for the safety of your feet and ankles.

But if you've been LRPing a fair while and want to start expanding your costume wardrobe to really go that extra mile to make the game better for everyone - then good IC footwear is a fantastic addition to your kit! Good kit makes the game more immersive for everyone - and hats off to everyone who goes that extra mile. Empire is an aspirational game - we want everyone to strive to get the best kit they can afford over time - and we want to applaud everyone who does that.

So don't worry about your feet - especially if you're new to LRP. Get yourself some brown or black boots or trainers that are comfortable and have good ankle support and grip. That's the minimum requirement to play the game - and is usually the best way for most people to get started. You can think about improving your IC footwear once you've got the rest of your costume looking just the way you want it.

Not Liking Things Is Core Game Design

  • Matt talking about why some parts of the game appear more fun than others. (20/02/2020)

One of the fundamental design weaknesses of Conclave is that everyone thinks they should enjoy it.

I kinda get it - because I guess the expectation is that you should enjoy every part of an event...

But Empire really isn't designed like that at all. Approximately half our players never attend a battle - but I've never seen a living soul say "do the shorter battle - because it'll be over quicker so it's the least worst..." Empire is quite deliberately designed to present a lot of different things to enjoy so that different people will get different things out of the game.

One of my core design principles in a game is the idea that "the only liquid everyone drinks is water". You can sort of try and make something that nobody really dislikes but only by watering it down to the point where nobody really cares about it that much either.

I prefer to try to include lots of different things in a game so that there are some things you'll really love and some things you'll hate. If we avoid making any of it obligatory, then you can engage with the stuff you like and skip the bits you don't.

I think the size of Empire (and by extension the size of Conclave and the posts here from the people who really enjoy it) show that the approach is pretty productive. But it does suffer from the fundamental flaw that everyone assumes by default that they will like every part of the game - and then they're disappointed when they don't.

tl:dr; If Empire has bits you like and bits you don't like - that's by design. Pick the bits you enjoy!

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The Most Significant Choice

  • Matt talking about picking your nation, and why the game encourages you to be specific about who you are rather than just play "a person" (15/10/2019)

One of the reasons you have to pick your nation before you play your first event is because your nation is - all other things being equal - the single most important choice you will make when making your character.* As a game, Empire is primarily about the things you are trying to accomplish as your character. It's a world designed to present goals for things you can accomplish - and from there on it's a sandbox filled with 2000 other PCs that you interact with. Some of those PCs will want to help you - some of them will want to hinder you - those interactions form the mainstay of your event.

That's the crux of the game - that's the mainstay of your experience. And that's why your nation is so crucial to your game. Because much of what your character might want to do is heavily influenced by your nation. Whether other PCs will help or hinder you will be heavily influenced by your nation.

I can't stress strongly enough how important a choice nation can be to your character - and to your enjoyment of the event. It affects everything.

If you find you can't decide - you can't pick between two or three you like - then just flip a coin. Which one you pick doesn't matter - they're all designed to be fun to play - but what does matter is that you pick one and go for it. You are far more likely to have fun playing a League mercenary - or a Marcher beater - or a Varushkan Warden - than you will playing a... blank.

It's cool to attend the event looking for a group to join - though you'd still benefit strongly from being someone who is from somewhere who is going to do something for some reason. You can attend the event and look for groups from the nation you're part of to join. But if you have nothing - if your character is a blank sheet - then nobody has anything to offer you and you have no reason to favour one group over another.

Whereas if you're from somewhere and trying to do something - then you have a basis for your interaction - suddenly this group is more favourable to your goals than that group. There's a point to the interactions - there's traction.

The fact that you have to pick a nation is not a imposition - it's the system trying to prevent you from having a bad time.

If you make a throw-away character - the odds of you having a throw-away experience go up exponentially. If you invest in your character - (I'm talking emotionally - but financially helps also!) then you're more likely to have a cool experience.

It is possible for characters to change nation - although it requires some in-character effort (you have to convince the new nation to accept you in-character).

But if someone has made a mistake - they can talk to us after the event and say "I enjoyed the event - but X nation is not for me - can I change my character to be from Y" then we'll change that for you because it's a mistake that we're correcting for you.

But we don't let people be "from nowhere" when they start the game because in the opinion of the game designers that significantly reduces your chances of having a good time at the game.

As Roisin says, playing a Navarr character who is not sure if they want to stay in the Navarr is cool. They're a nation known for moving around - and for helping people find the place they want to be.

But that requires you to create a story and a character who is Navarr. It's a cool character if you want to try and explore that story and go on a journey to find a home. But the best chance of working is if you're someone from somewhere and you're not sure this is right for you anymore because of some reason.

If you're playing a Navarr because you got told that's the easiest nation to switch in and out of - and you've picked it because it sounded like the best way to get round the requirement to have a nation and you know nothing about the nation. Then you're maximising your chance of having no fun.

  • Actually the most important choice you will make is which in-character group you are part of - but since that requires you all be pick the same nation I'm ignoring it here for simplicity.
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In Praise of an Imperial Position

  • A short piece written by Amy Mason Flowers and posted to the Empire LRP facebook group, about experiences as Master of the Imperial Mint (27/09/2019).

Hello! To anyone who doesn't know me, I play in the League as Lieselotte van Holberg. I'm the current Master of the Mint, and I can't sleep so I decided to write a long post instead. This is praise for one of my favourite parts of this game and a part very few people get to see up close - the Master of The Imperial Mint position.

The Master of the Mint is one of the rare dual imperial body positions (like Quartermaster, Imperial Magus, Conscience, Imperial Consul and the soon to be appoined Basilisk of the Bourse, and the initially forgotten by me Warmage) that gets powers in multiple areas of the game. In the case of the Mint, it's the liaison between Senate and the Bourse - which is why I get to stand in Senate and tell them to spend less money, but also sit and glare at the bidders in the Bourse auction while making frantic notes on the changing prices.

It's also a weird position - unlike all the others above, it is restricted to the League and sold as a Bourse Seat. Yet it is unique as a Bourse Seat for not giving any Bourse resources. Yet it comes with something much more valuable and interesting to a data nerd like me: numbers. Each season I get to sit down with a Civil Servant(1) and get all the details of the tax intake and costs of each territory, the breakdown of Senate spending, the tariff costs of our foreign policy, and the predictions for the next season.

What do I do with all this? Firstly, I get to role-play being knowledgeable about numbers for 3 days. I get to be the girly swot standing at the front of the class and telling teacher the budget is this much, another army costs this much and so on. Luckily the Speakers are very indulgent of my rudely introducing facts(2) into the impassioned debates of ideas the Senators are having.

Secondly, I get to go home and make all the numbers dance for me! I know how to choose my lap weapons -> Pivot tables, linear regression and spreadsheets at dawn!

Thirdly, I make up little booklets summarising the data and sell them to increase awareness of the various numbers. People are most likely to have seen on of my tax maps in the Anvil Almanac, showing which territories produce the most net tax - the data for those comes from the Master of the Mint position. I have even more detailed ones for the truly nerdy reader! I also tried producing wood symbol versions for the MC for a while. Having these means I can get other people to care about the numbers too and we can have detailed discussions about how our methods of war impact the territory we capture, or how we treat the territory impacts financial growth in the area. It adds a level of realism to the game that I've not seen in any other larp (or frankly any non-computerised game) and it is so cool.

This is only one aspect of the position though - another Mint could as easily ignore the numbers info, and instead concentrate on the influence you can have in Senate. You can't vote or raise a motion, but you get to talk and that's far more powerful than either. Senate is a tiny sphere of people, and getting to spend every session with them, getting to hear how they talk and watch the patterns of alliances quickly gives you knowledge of who to talk to if you want certain things done. There is a heady atmosphere that is part theatre (as you play to the gallery), part heated political argument and part in-jokes of work colleagues(3) and it is very different in feel inside it.

I didn't expect to enjoy this position this much when I decided to go for it(4), and I'm so glad I did. About 18 months ago I got really sick and lost almost all my mobility, and having something that I could excel at with minimal moving around meant the world to me. So thanks PD, with especial thanks to those making up numbers for us to play with.

For anyone who wants more info about the title can find it here: Master of the Imperial Mint(5)
(1) Graeme, who tolerates my corrections of his sums with shockingly good grace
(2) well numbers, which are like facts and often add up eventually, much like the plot of a good murder mystery
(3) Long-term economic investment bingo, goodest doggos, John of Mead's Bercow impressions for a start
(4) A good IC question to ask me is how do you raise the money to take positions that require upfront capital e.g. this, the Runeforge
(5) How many more years do I have to do this before they replace the former Mint with a picture of me?

Massacres and Misdemeanours

  • Here Matt is talking about masacres and other war crimes with specific reference to the Mournwold incident (20/09/2019)
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Tricking people into committing genocide against their wishes is literally no part of the game design of Empire.

In theory there is a space in a live roleplaying game for letting people get hit by the consequences of their actions without warning them in advance that that might happen. The real world is complex - it's often hard to know quite how things will turn out - so in theory there is the potential to run a game in which you inflict consequences of people's actions on them after the fact without warning.

But that's not remotely how Empire is set-up. There are various reasons why it's not interesting to us as a live roleplaying game concept. I could go into it in detail - but they link to the problems of being judge and jury as game organizers and to concepts around the nature of choice as players. Philosophically I'd argue a choice with zero information about the outcomes is literally not a choice at all. The more information you have - the more of a choice you have to make.

So instead we try to present the players with all the possible information we can give them - and then let them make their decisions based on sure knowledge of what is going to happen. I'm confident that the characters involved in the Spiral "incident" knew exactly what they were doing. They were very explicit in their orders - and then just to be absolutely definitely 1000% clear - they did it again next season.

Likewise I'm similarly confident that characters involved in the Mournwold massacre knew what was going to happen. I've seen various posts and emails from people that made clear that they knew what they were doing and what the consequences would be. It was a careful decision by the key people involved - to kill a lot of Jotun - at a painful price.

It was an awesome part of what makes Empire the game it is. It's a low-fantasy game choice. The decisions was not heroic... but it was effective. I can't remember how many Jotun they killed... but shit me it was a lot. I'm really proud of the fact that we can run a live roleplaying game in which people do the equivalent of dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and that makes perfect sense in-character - it's based on rational decisions - that you can argue over the morality of. The reason I like to run games like Empire - is so that players can do stuff like that!

Unfortunately there is an element after anything like that where people tend to have buyers remorse. When that happens, the most effective way to avoid punishment by the mob who have changed their view on what is acceptable now that the war is won and everyone is feeling safe and counting the bodies (morality is in the eye of the historian!) is to deny that you had any idea what was going to happen.

That's a perfectly normal reaction - and people do it all the time in the real world. It's standard operating procedure for all people involved in morally dubious practices to claim afterwards that they had no idea what was happening/what was going to happen. It's basic moral defence 101 - yes I did actually do this terrible thing - but I had no idea what would happen - therefore I can't be guilty of a moral crime.

Unfortunately in a live roleplaying game that tends to get confused with "PD deliberately screwed us" - which is very frustrating. The in-character defense tends to take on an out-of-character hint of "this wasn't me - the game organisers did it". That's a real shame when it happens, because actually it undermines the genuinely awesome character decisions that went into something like Spiral or Mournwold. It also leads to situations like these where generals are encouraged to think "but what if I don't order an atrocity, but PD just makes one happen anyway" even though that's literally not how the game works.

If you look at the Mournwold, we'd been running plot for a year or two before that about the inhabitants - it would have been hard to miss if you were a general or a Marcher I suspect. I mean you could miss it - but... you'd have to work hard. I accept that you can convince yourself that all those people are Marcher thralls currently - and thus not Imperial citizens - even though those two states are not mutually exclusive - but that doesn't really shift the essential morality of what happened. Unless you think killing thousands of civilians is ok if they're our civilians conquered by the enemy rather than our civilians not conquered by the enemy. That seems an odd defense to me.

I think some people were genuinely surprised how many people died. Nobody ever asked us how many people lived in the Mournwold - so we did have to pluck a figure out of the air for that - but it felt odd to us that if 30,000 people died when from poisonous gas belching out of the ground that was a terrible atrocity - but if 12,000 people died from it it would have been just fine.

But I do think there was a gotcha in the sense that we said "Loads of children and old people will die if you do this" and the players were like "Yeah - cool - lets go do it". Then afterwards we said "Loads of children and old people died when you did this" and the players were like "Exactly how many is loads?" and we were all "Er... I dunno... hang on... check numbers on back of fag-packet.... about 10% - about 30,000"

At which point people were then astonished to discover that anyone lived in an area of land the size of Wales (population at the turn of the 16th century - 260,000).

There was a lot of focus on the numbers - but I think that was actually because numbers make things real. If I say "a lot of people died in the Mournwold" then you think "Yes - that is very sad. I am sad for those people who died." If I say "30,000 people died in the Mournworld" you think "WTF? 30,000? That's insane? How did all those people end up dead? What the hell?" There is huge emotional power in numbers in situations like this that words alone don't create (it's one of the reasons that journalists looking to "report" a story are often so careful to cherry-pick their numbers - or even overlook them entirely - the emotional reaction hinges on your sense of the numbers).

Beyond that - I think people understood pretty well what was going to happen. You can look up Mountain Remembers its Youth on the wiki - the AP wasn't quite the same - but it did make clear that the young and the old would be the main casualties. The magicians involved knew what they were doing (and more power to their elbow!) and at least some of the generals who were working with them did also.

Which is all cool with me! Like I say, I think those two points where amongst the most momentous moments of the game - and it's a great strength of Empire that it can produce things like that. But unfortunately the aftermath does tend to lead to situations where people present these things as if no-one could possibly have known what was going to happen beforehand - which is a real shame - because from an OOC perspective it's mostly horseshit - but crucially because I think it really undermines the very awesome roleplay decisions the characters took.

Unfortunately Facebook does not help. When discussing on Facebook afterwards players rarely volunteer the information "It was me - I dunnit - I knew what would happen and I did it anyway". So you don't really get the fullest possible picture from Facebook of what actually happened IC when these decisions were made. Instead you get the impression that people sort of blundered into it by accident - which as I've said I think really undermines the cool of the actions those characters took.

Metagaming

  • On an otherwise innocent thread about "New to Anvil" as in-character code for "I am a new player", Matt wrote some words about metagaming.(26/08/2019)

Bad metagaming is where you use an aspect of the game that exists outside of the context of the game for your personal benefit. For instance, many years ago I came across a very large demon at a fest event I was attending. Great big huge wings... I commented to a friend that the creature was pretty intimidating they replied "Nah, not really, if you stand under that tree, he can't touch you. His wings catch on the low branches".

That's a fine example of metagaming. Using something that exists outside the context of the game "people with large fixed-mount phys-rep wings can't walk under low branches" to gain personal advantage in a way that makes no sense within the context of the game itself (I have yet to see a game setting that explicitly lays out that winged demons cannot approach within 10ft of a tree trunk with low branches).

Sometimes metagaming is ok. As a plot writer you can create plots that play off the fact that you know that players will make certain assumptions - so that you can surprise them. I think that's ok - that kind of metagaming is the LRP equivalent of subverting the genre/expectations to make the experience more enjoyable for the reader. Metagaming to make things more cool for other players... I'm all for.

But metagaming to make things cooler for yourself at the expense of others is less cool. It can be a fairly selfish way to play.

In this example, the risk with exploiting this kind of metagaming advantage is that you are playing on the way people treat new players. Specifically some/a lot of LRPers will go out of their way to help new players - to try and look out for them and help them get into the game.

That in itself is a form of metagaming. There's no IC reason that people should feel preternaturally helpful towards random strangers simply because they've recently arrived in Anvil. You're acting on the basis of information that's outside the context of the setting. But it's a great form of metagaming because it helps to make the game more welcoming to new players - which helps to bring new players into Empire and into LRP.

But if you exploit that kindness to get in-character advantage then you're metagaming not to help new players, but for your own gain. And crucially what you're doing is burning the goodwill that existing players will show to new players. If you exploit the "I am a New LRPer" to scam or con someone who makes all kinds of assumptions - then it's a fair bet that next time someone tells that player they're new to LRP then they'll be a lot less helpful.

If effect you're making the game less cool, less accessible for every new player coming to Empire - to give yourself a few extra IC coins...

Funny story - many years ago I played an unlovable character at a large bank holiday fest. He was not a pleasant person (I don't play pleasant people) and some people were trying very hard to kill him and I was trying to be very careful so as not to make that too easy for them. But when I met a player who explained they were brand new and didn't know what on earth was going on, I stopped being careful and my unlovable character who would literally kick a beggar to death to take his last shilling suddenly developed a charitable streak a mile wide and started trying to help this character, got them to tag along with me, trying to introduce them to people, take them places.

I was a little disappointed when it turned out they were metagaming and we'ren't a new player at all and had simply said that to get close to my character so they could murder me. It was a good death, one of my all time favourites - but it did take a little of the shine off an otherwise perfect moment...

At some point we really should put "I'm new to Anvil..." on the wiki.

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In Character Tents

  • This is a post Clare put together to address some of the regular questions asked about camping on the in-character field. It was originally posted on the New Player and Player Support facebook group. (20/07/2019)

Introduction

We get a lot of questions about camping at events and whether to camp in or out of character. There’s pros and cons to doing each and I’ve compiled a list about it to help people make the choice that suits them for events.

Camping at Empire is split between several fields. Anvil itself is split across two main fields.. These fields are in character and people camp in them according to the nation they are in. Each nation has a camp planner who organises and supervises camping in these areas. Space is limited and they do a fantastic job in trying to fit everyone into the space they have available. If you want to camp in your nation camp it is important to make the camp planner aware of your requirements so they can add you to the camp plan and then make sure you’re in the correct area when you pitch your tent on site. The camp planners coordinate through Facebook and most nation groups have a pinned post at the top for this. If not a shout out on the board will get you directed to the correct person.

There are also two out of character camps and another for crew. There is an area for accessible camping. Before the event a site plan comes out which has all this marked on it. This is linked from the side bar on the wiki.

I’m going to go through some pros and cons for each type of camping. I’ve left out any discussion about toilets and showers. Because of the layout of the site there will always be areas which have a bit of a walk to them. We’re constantly looking at ways to improve the provision of toilets and showers. I for one acknowledge the 4am walk to the toilets is an awful experience that not even the quiet misty loveliness of the site makes up for.

Camping in Character

Empire events aren’t 24 hour so there is really no such thing as in character camping as such. When we talk about in character camping, we're talking about pitching a suitable tent on the in character field and sleeping in it.We can all agree (hopefully) that Anvil is an amazing space to be in and look great. We all want to be there and add to the feel of our town, this is why we restrict the type of tents which can be used in Anvil. No polyester or modern fabric tents should be used, although blends like most bell tents are fine. The aim is to have something that looks like a period tent that adds to the look-and-feel of our fantasy town, not something shiny and modern that risks damaging other peoples’ immersion in the event!

In Character Hots

  • Close to group and central Anvil stuff.
  • Less far to walk generally - you can duck into your tent for a rest, all your stuff is easily at hand
  • Can put children to bed and carry on your game nearby

In Character Nots

  • Late night noise - the IC field is always likely to be noisy, people like to sit around fires and sing and carry on the party.
  • Needs an appropriate tent - as said above these need to be in keeping with the in character field. This usually means they’re bigger, heavier and more expensive than modern tents
  • Needs to be on site long enough before time in to set up - when the game starts, vehicle access to the field is not possible and in character tents are usually heavier than out of character ones and all the required set dressing and your stuff can be almost impossible to cart over to your nation.
  • Need enough set dressing to make the space look good. If you want to use it as an in character space the tent should be set dressed and modern kit and rubbish kept out of sight.
  • IC thievery - there are explicit rules about in character thievery. You need to make sure you are aware of them and how your tent could be affected by them. I have another post planned about this. Be aware about the rules on not entering a closed tent and keeping in character and out of character stuff separate.

Organization (edit)

It's worth adding here that organizing the IC field takes a lot of time and hard work. Planning each national camp is fairly complicated and can take a couple of weeks to organise so try not to leave it to the last minute. The best way to get in touch is through the facebook groups.

Camping Out of Character

Camping out of character means pitching your tent in the out of character fields. These are the ones surrounding the main Anvil in character fields. There is an area behind the Wintermark/Dawn field and along the top of the other field, where you drive into the site.

Sleeping in the out of character field doesn’t cut you off from any part of the game or mean you have a less full-filling event. The decision is all about what suits you practically and financially. Events shouldn’t cause you discomfort or stress and this decision is a big part of how to make sure you enjoy your time.

Out of Character Hots

  • Not needing to drive onto the IC field - sometimes we have wet events, not having to drive onto the in character field in these situations is great! You can pretty much pull off the hardcore road on the top of site to where you pitch and off again too! Helps with getting off site too!
  • No restrictions about arriving and leaving. Out of character camping isn’t affected by the no vehicles on site during in character time that the in character field is.
  • Bolthole from the IC field - the in character field can be intense at times, whether you’re a new or more experienced player. Camping in the out of character field means you can escape and hide and have a break from it all whenever you want.
  • Quieter - the out of character camping areas are much quieter than the in character field. It’s generally expected that people keep the noise down in these areas and that singing, music and partying at night is kept on the in character field.
  • More space to pitch - as we’ve discussed the in character field can be quite tight on space and the camp planners work hard to fit everyone in. The out of character fields have much more room for you
  • Good for people sharing a tent but in different nations - cross nation groups aren’t a thing in Empire. People from different nations do share in character sleeping space but that limits some of the people for access to the tent during the event.
  • Car as storage - you can keep stuff in your car! It’s nearby and is dry! You can usually park fairly close to your tent. If you can move your car away from next to your tent, that’s great because it means everyone else after you gets to camp a little closer to the in character field!

Out of Character Nots

  • Might need to find a friendly In Character tent to stash stuff in - people are pretty good and asking around might well net you some space to keep a bag or box so you can store a bit of stuff without getting back to your tent for a cloak or snacks or whatever. Get a nice in character storage solution and ask nicely!
  • Bit of a walk - out of character camping can be a bit of a distance from the in character field.
  • Being able to get up and not be in character straight away. If you want to lounge about in the out of character field in your pajamas for an hour before you start playing this is possible in the out of character fields but not in character fields!

This post isn’t to say ‘Don’t camp in the in character field or out of character field’ in particular but to give you some information to help you make a decision for what suits you best.

On Archetypes

  • Some words from Matt about Archetypes in Empire, taken from Facebook (19/07/2019)

An archetype represents a social niche that your character can occupy - and be known for doing that role first and foremost. So you can be a Thane of a Wintermark Hall - or a mountebanc on the streets of the Sarvos - or a hakima of the tribes of the Brass Coast. You can't be more than one archetype at once in practical terms - because fundamentally you can't be known and seen and treated as lots of different things. You might be a Thane who has sworn the oath of a grimnir and tries to mediate disputes. But if you run a hall and are known for your status as the ruler of that hall - and treated as such - then that's what you are - you're a Thane. The other facets of who you are simply not as important.

Archetype is completely optional. But they exist for a bunch of reasons - primarily to create interesting social niches for your character - things you can be. People often approach roleplaying in dungeons and dragons like terms - I'll be a fighter, I'll be a healer - but Empire is first and foremost a social game - it's about your role in the world. Archetypes encourage people to think in those terms about their character. Who am I - how do people relate to me - what is my role in society? These questions are usually much much more important in Empire than "Did you take magic or fighting skills".

Archetype is probably the single most important decision you can make when you create your character. Occasionally it gets used by the plot team for stuff - because it's useful for us targeting plot. If we're running out a piece of plot about a conflict in Wintermark - then it's useful to aim that first and foremost at the mediators. But plot is far less important than your characterisation. That's crucial in Empire - who you are - what you do - how you think - how you act - how you interact with other characters. Those decisions are going to have a big impact on your game and on your enjoyment of the game.

Having an archetype can help get you started on that. It gives you a way to focus your characterisation - and it gives other people a way to understand who you are. If you tell me you're a thane - I'm going to respond to you very differently than if you tell you're a grimnir - or a maggot.

I'd encourage every new player to look at the archetypes and think "Would it be fun to be the person doing that thing"? If the answer is yes - then embrace it and go for it. If not... that's cool - if there's no archetype that grabs you then just leave it blank. It is there to help - and if it's not helping - it's of no benefit. By all means look at multiple archetypes. If it all looks fun - you can try and do it all. But remember that it will influence how people see you. If you tell people you're a maggot grimnir mediator scop runesmith thane... then you're not actually saying you are all of those things - what you're actually saying is "I'm not really anything".

Archetypes aren't classes - they don't limit what you can do in play like a character class in a classic rpg. You can be a thane who makes runic items, you can be a stormcrow who mediates, or a grimnir who loots the battlefield. But an archetype is about focus - the tighter your focus the more it says about you - and the more guidance it's giving you to do stuff on the field. So the more you try to have lots of archetypes - the less you're actually getting the benefit of any of it. If something sounds fun - read more about it - and embrace it. The game is designed so that leaning in to an archetype and embracing that thing will hopefully improve your game.

But don't pick an archetype if nothing grabs you - just leave it blank. There is no benefit to ticking a box and having a label that means nothing to you. If it's not something you want to be in the game - it's not something you want to put on your character sheet! So it's perfectly ok to leave it blank - just means you need to think about who you are and what you are going to try and do in game instead!

Character Death

  • This is a piece written by Mitchell Clark about his experiences at E2-2019 when his long-term character died, with an introduction by our own Clare Evans. It originally appeared on the [Player support and new player help Facebook page. (18/07/2019).

Introduction

We've talked about character death a couple of times on this page. It's an important part of the game. Everyone deals with it differently and it's a shock and often it sucks, but it keeps the game fresh and moving, it gives you a chance to play something new and buy that kit you've had your eye on, it provides the frisson of excitement and fear that makes the game buzz.

I've asked Mitchell Clarke to talk about his character death last event to give an eye view into what happens and how he handled the situation. There's no right or wrong way, but this is his....

Death

Character death is something that the majority of us hope will never happen, especially to our own PCs - Naturally, as we make strong bonds with our IC friends and allies a character death within that circle will have an immediate, national or even further afield impact if you are really lucky. A lot of players, new and even old seem to think that character deaths and slipping into the terminal state over the weekend is the end of ones game, I've been asked to try and prove otherwise.

I am going to be talking about my own experience of my first character death of which I played seven years as Torr Splitroot.

After being cut off from Imperial lines in Liathhaven I got offered the chance to be executed, I asked if I could have that done in front of my nation (Navarr) as I wanted to get the most bang for my buck, being an adjutant and field captain this would certainly cause some shock value - Luckily the knife hand of the Jotun got cleaved off just before they could finish the job. This allowed for the Navarr to get me back into Imperial lines, albeit beyond repair at this point.

Torr Splitroot.jpg
Always remember. Great deeds are eternal.

As the battle continued I was taken away from the ebb and flow of the main line and being dragged towards the sentinel gate. Whilst this was happening my friend dedicated me to Vigilance on the battefield, slumped against a tree bleeding my guts out and barely holding them in.

Once I finally got back into the safety of Anvil, I went straight to the Forge - More to have breathing space to process what is inevitably going to happen this weekend, and also to have some much needed chats at this point. Whilst there I had a close friend from another nation rush over, speak to me and then place my first testimony upon my soul.

Later that afternoon I announced progress made about Broceliandes defence against the Vallorn, information about the battle earlier that day and then the fact I was in a terminal state to my nation during our standing. Just as I was about to walk out that circle I had the Navarr national assembly come up to me and put another testimony upon my soul, once done the entire nation chanted this repeatedly as I walked to the side of the circle to allow others to announce stuff.

During songs and stories I spoke about my journey through life and respectively the great dance as is Navarri tradition, and how if I could do all these things then everyone else can with their own ambition, pride and courage. After this I had another testimony put upon my soul by another close friend.

After battle-reffing the Sunday battle I got back into Torrs gear one last time. Donned his warpaint, tattoos and branding one last time. As the time got closer I went to the standing circle, my striding, friends, nation, friends from other nations were all there like they said they would be. Everyone said their final words, speaking of shared memories and how my efforts were not in vain, and asking if I would have changed my actions if I knew the outcome of the path I just blazed down in life. No. I spoke of the greatest ambitions I had that I now would not be able to fulfill, and reminded my nation and friends, that if I could do this, then they could do better.

As Torr drank that dose of venom, feeling the life within his body slowly fade away, he could hear song, he could see his friends and the tears they shed for him, and he could feel immense pride in everyone being there in his final moments. 'I love you all.' Upon his death, some plot related stuff happened that I'd rather be left for the field for people to pursue. As I finally put my hand in the air, it did hit me - But not as much as I expected, yes I just hit the final stop in Torrs journey from an OC perspective, but it made me think of every bump, corner and full speed straight that got me here in the first place. Every action you have made during that time has a small butterfly effect in that game that will last forever, even if its a tiny once. That is what you must remember, that whilst this character is technically a part of you, a much more projected, vocal and actionable version of yourself - You are what ultimately led that life and you can do so again in the next.

I for one look forward to what my new character will bring to the table, to experience Empire in someone elses boots, and cannot wait for E3.

Always remember. Great deeds are eternal.

Epic War Epic War – Cinema in LARP combat

  • This is a piece written by Nick Turner at the request of Clare Evans for the New Player facebook. Nick runs our New Player Weapons training sessions on Fridays at events. As Clare says "There's no right or wrong way but there are definately ways people prefer and ways to look amazing and give everyone a better more dramatic experience they'll remember." (18/06/2019)

Just before Christmas Clare asked me to write a short piece on the Ethics of Combat at Empire and try to describe the feel that we are trying to achieve. Writing about combat and fighting styles is highly contentious as it is one of those things that everyone has their own views on how and what. The age old discussions of heroic vs competitive, spear vs sword/shield rage on just as they have since Peckforton opened its doors nearly 40 years ago.

So why has this task fallen to me? Several reasons I guess. I am both a player and referee within the game so I see both sides of this part of the game. I have a significant amount of battle/fighting experience over my 25+ years of playing and I’ve studied martial sports to a high level. I also run the new player combat briefs on the Friday afternoons (alongside Emma Rowden and Johnny Fisher).

Vision
LARP combat is by its nature a competition, driven by the need to “win” a fight for character survivability etc. There are a lot of talented fighters across the Nations who fight in many ways.

“Competitive” fighters use terms such as “hard skills” to justify their actions, but in the end up just optimising. Light weapons, large shields, certain stances, targeting certain parts of the body etc. It turn from epic combat to something that can be likened to sports fencing where there are primary targets and the equipment has been selected to give maximum advantage. But being honest it just doesn’t look that good.

“Heroic” combat is often ill-described as “two-thirds combat” – the idea that if you slow down blows it will look better, and make you look like a hero. But why should I handicap myself in a fight by not using my weapons at their full potential? Likewise slowing down is hard to do without it looking hammed up. Also, what if I’m not playing a hero?

You are in your own movie (and in everyone else’s)

Personally I have no issue with either style. They have their own place in the hobby but I don’t think either fit the ethic of Empire as a game. Empire is a sweeping vista of conflict, a gruelling world where word and sword carry equal weight. The setting of Empire is one of epic tales, of hard fought battles, of heroes and villains. The visual feast that we can see in the pictures that the ever talented photographers give us is one of individual stories. Look out over Anvil at dusk and you are transport somewhere else – into a story.

Therefore I would like to advocate a third view – that of “cinematic” combat. This is how I picture combat in Empire should be and it is this that we talk about at New Player briefings. Hopefully I can persuade you to the same view.

When you play you are the central protagonist in your own movie, and we all want that movie to be a blockbuster. We want the orc that we have struck to feel the hit, we want to see the rage of our foes as they meet us, the fear in their eyes as they fall back under our assault. When we take the field, be it alongside a band of Imperial heroes, or as a horde of barbarians we are contributing to everyone else’s movie.

Modern movies and TV series have developed exceptional choreography in their combat scenes, aimed give a sense of awe when we watch them. 13th Warrior, 300, Vikings, GoT, Musketeers, The list could go on. I don’t know about you but it is that sense of awe that I want when I take the field. I want to be able to pause, look around the battlefield and picture that I am in my own film.

How does this translate to combat at Empire?

The combat system at Empire is designed to advocate this thinking. In essence it promotes a certain set of ethics by which we can play.

For example, I can name just a few rules that are aimed at this style of play.

1: The rule of hero points insist that appropriate roleplay is used when performing a call. Go big or go home…

2: Taking damage and calls requires certain actions. A cleaved leg requires you to fall over – no “Monty Python’s Black Knight”, likewise when hit by strike down needs you to hit the floor properly.

3: The one-second rule is designed to allow for these blows to be used and weapons to be swung, essentially negating the DPS “drum roll” idea of some competitive fighting styles. A spear is pulled back and thrust just feels better than when it is waggled near an opponent. Even with knives a good solid swing looks better. It also allows time to aim for a specific target and ensure the blow is pulled for safety.

4: Spell Vocals are cool (and required). A chance to put your own spin on the call you are about to make. Using them in a suitable manner, be it imposing booming vocals or quiet whispered sneaky – they still add to the moment.

5: While you are on the ground bleeding out you are still part of combat. When you hit zero in Empire you are not unconscious so you can engage with the game. Call for help, insult your foes, plead for mercy or bargain for your life.

Cinematic combat is not optimal, I realise this, but it is about having a winning mentality for the game as a whole. It’s about fighting your best without relying on the fact that we are using LARP equipment and showing a great story. And it is still effective.

It is full speed, but not “quick”. It is roleplayed, but not hammy. Swing from the shoulders, not the wrist. It’s about attacking from a different angle, without being seen to be “trying a move”. It’s about going big when using hero points. Go hard but safe!

Fight differently when you monster a battle rather than as your character would with a mask on. Think of how it is for the other person in the fight. Get into character. Roll with hits, stagger under a good blow, or the force of an arrow. Using a full range of motion. Be vocal and show your emotions. Play your injuries. Roleplay the s**t out of it. “Choreograph” the fight in your head, but don’t plan it. Think about how it looks to everyone around you.

Empire is an aspirational system, both in terms of look and style and I feel that combat should be aspirational as well. Cinematic combat is about looking good, fighting well but giving everyone, including yourself, their own personal “extras”. It shapes the game and give stories that people will tell around the fire for years to come. Watch this.

If you are interested in learning more, please come to the combat briefs and have a listen further. It never hurts to try a new thing.

The Canonicity of Orders

  • A post from Matt about army orders submitted by generals in response to a question on the New Player facebook. "To what degree can we assume the Winds material is 100% canon? How accountable are players to the actions described in Winds of War?" (07/06/2019)

The orders of the PCs are published next to the Wind of War. You can see exactly what the order was. It's important to appreciate that the text that is written represents flavour text that describes the mathematical outcome of what happened based on the order type that the general submitted. The words influence the write-up - and may provide specific details like which regions to target - but they don't influence the outcome of the battles in anyway.

{As an aside if someone wrote - "I order the army to go into battle in their underpants wielding sticks of celery and running backwards towards the enemy to carry out a balanced attack" - then we'd ignore it. There'd be a brief discussion and then we'd write flavour text that read like "They execute a balanced attack - but they pointedly ignore your bat shit crazy ideas of how to fight in favour of tactics that will work." So you literally can't influence the mathematical outcome with your flavour text even if you tried).

Holding the generals responsible for the order type they submit is cool. Where the army went - and what kind of attack or defence order it submitted is 100% under the control of the general and you absolutely can and should roleplay that they are responsible for that.

Holding them responsible for the flavour text stuff that happens is pretty pointless. Out-of-character they're not responsible for that, and most players know that and understand that, so I would not anticipate you getting much support for criticizing someone's character for something the player categorically had no control over. I suspect most people's in-character sense of fair play will kick in and they won't give you much support for that. I certainly wouldn't give you an inch of support for it.

Criticism.png
Empire is a game all about making difficult
decisions.

If you're a general getting in-character grief for something the plot writers wrote as the story-line for a battle then you've got a couple of options. You can quite legitimately say "Nothing to do with me mate - that was my underlings - this is the order I gave - this is what I told them to do - clearly a bunch of subcommanders went off and did this." It's not a fun piece of roleplaying - but it's in-character legitimate in this very specific situation and Profound Decisions will back that to the hilt if we're called in to rule on it.

A player can quite legitimately say "I wasn't even there mate". In a technical sense a general does not even need to roleplay that they are present during the campaign. I don't know how many generals roleplay it this way - but it's a perfectly valid option to say "My constitutional role is to submit orders to my army - that's what I'm selected to do - I don't have a role beyond that. I'm a non-combatant so I don't fight."

Personally I'd go the other route. I'd lean in. I'd say "Yep - that was exactly what I ordered - I did that because it was absolutely categorically the best strategy to adopt in that situation given the way the forces are arrayed against us. The fact that you think it wasn't the best strategy to choose simply shows your ignorance of strategy".

Profound Decisions will validate that viewpoint. We don't write the non-player characters to be doing anything stupid, they basically do the smartest thing available in any given situation. So it's correct in any meaningful sense that the any player-character general who was with their army ordering them to do the stuff in the flavour text was absolutely giving the most beneficial orders possible - given the overall orders given to the army at the start of the campaign.

And it's a subtle nod to the fact that you're trying to criticize a character for something the player had absolutely no control over - which implies you may not fully understand how that part of the game works.

Empire as a game is all about making difficult decisions. The plot of our game - the story - essentially is the decisions the players make given the challenges they face. Our non-player-characters simply react to that. The PvP politics is all about criticizing people for the things they did as their character - that's a crucial part of the game we're presenting for everyone to play.

But criticizing someone for the things they had no control over as a player is - by definition - not part of the decisions they made. It's not something we encourage - because we don't think it's any fun for anyone roleplaying it at any level. Which is why we'll validate any half-sensible position the player in question wants to take "Best strategy available/Not me responsibility mate/Rogue commanders"

If you want to criticize people for the tactical orders they give on the battlefield there is a place for that. It's the battles that take place on Saturday and Sunday of the game!

Not Today, Free Text Downtime

  • Matt, responding to the suggestion that the way general submit their orders amounts to a 'free text downtime' (29/05/19)

It's a funny line - but it's pretty muddle-headed in my mind.

Firstly you submit your orders in uptime - we're pretty damn strict about that... So it flat out fails the technical description of a downtime submission if you have to do it live at an event in my mind. It looks like a free-text downtime because it involves free-text and it's written down and it's resolved between events rather than immediately. But the bit you do - the bit that's important - that's done at the event.

A huge amount of Empire's reflection takes place between events rather than immediately. We type up all the Senate motions onto the wiki - then we go and painstakingly work out the effects of each and everyone. That takes hours of work - it's too technical a job to attempt at an event. And we need time to agree on the reactions of the NPCs to it in. So the impact of everything the Senate does - the reflection of the actions - takes place between events. Are Senate motions free text downtimes? Are Conclave declarations? I don't think so.

Ok, so they're not free text. Well they are actually - but there is a mechanical system that underpins the Senate and Conclave system - you can't just build anything. It's a set of tools - and the free text is description of which tools you're using and how. So it's not really free text?

Not Today.jpg
And not tomorrow either.

But the general's orders are very very explicitly mechanical. We're absolutely dogmatic about that. What you write is important - it affects the flavour of the outcome - but the mechanical reflection is done based on the single downtime option you tick with your order. They're arguably even less free-text than Senate motions.

But if that hasn't convinced you - then think about Synod judgements. That absolutely is free-text - and the system has zero mechanical structure in the reflective elements. You can submit any text you like - and provided enough players vote for it - then we'll give you a result based on our interpretation of your free-text submission. Are Synod judgements free-text downtimes?

I think it stretches credibility to breaking point to view them as free-text downtimes - and yet they are written down, they're free-text, their pass/fail status is determined at the event - but the resolution of their effects takes place between events.

If I could produce a system, in which Raff could write 100,000 words in 20 minutes - and 2000 players could read the 100,000 words in 20 minutes - then we could have built Empire as a world in which every general submitted their orders Saturday night - and Sunday morning everyone got the resolution. We can't do that - well duh - but actually I'm not convinced we'd have seen any improvement at all in the game if we had.

(Thinking about it - it would be EASY to do the above. Just strip out the writing element. Turn the entire military game into a purely mechanical exercise. Armies have strengths, they submit orders, they do X, they do Y. It takes Andy 3-4 days to write the Winds of War - but it takes Graeme only 3-4 hours at most to calculate the actual mechanical results. If the system were purely mechanical - if we didn't want all the dramatic text - we could literally do it Saturday night. It would be purely "uptime". It would also be shit

(Side-side note: we actually tried something like this one event with the siege of the Druj fortress in Reikos. It was ok as a concept - but was a lot of work for questionable gains)).

It's understandable that people focus on PD's processing of the general's orders as a crucial element of the game. But actually the crucial element of the game is what takes place in the field running up to that point. It's the interactions between the generals - as they discuss where their armies are going to go - what they're going to do - that's the crucial bit. That's where the game is.

Have you played Diplomacy Oz? The board game? I loved that game so much. It has two phases. The diplomacy phase - and the order phase. In the diplomacy phase you spend fifteen minutes talking to other players trying to convince them to do what you want. Then you have 5 minutes or whatever to write your orders down in the orders phase. Oh - and then there's a third phase - the resolution phase - where everyone reveals their orders and you update the map accordingly. Then you go again. If you've played diplomacy at all - then the comparisons with the Empire's military game should be pretty obvious.

Downtime is our orders resolution phase - that's all it is. The order system - our collection of them, the processing, the release of the results. Like everything else in Empire it exists to allow us to collect the key points of data from the uptime actions of the players - Conclave Declarations, Synod Judgements, Senate motions, General orders - and then to reflect those event-based decisions into changes in the state of the world.

Yes we use free-text for some uptime actions! Sometimes the text affects the mechanical model that underpins the downtime system (it doesn't with general's orders, it does with synod judgements) sometimes it's purely important for the flavour and the roleplaying. But it's based on crucial decisions taken live and uptime as your character.

If I could make every part of Empire respond to free text from every character I would! What a lot of people call "plot" is free-text uptime. NPCs come out to speak to you in the field - depending on what free-text you submit to them they will go away and react to that - usually between events. Is interacting with an NPC at an event a free-text downtime? It feels like a stretch to claim that - even if the resolution, the changes in the state of the world - take place between events.

In a perfect world I'd love the field to be swimming in plot that was all about free-text submissions by players. Sadly we haven't found ways to massively scale that up yet - but we continue to work on that - evolution not revolution.

But if I could do it - if I could give everyone a hundred free-text uptimes an event - and keep the quality high and the consistency there. I'd do that in the blink of an eye!

What we do do, is give players a way to communally submit actions at events that include free-text elements to a greater or lesser extent - Synod Judgements, Generals orders, Senate motions, etc. It's all done in uptime - all the crucial decisions are made in the field - but the resolution does take place between events.

Almost every important decision you make in Empire is made while in-character and roleplaying. It's uptime. Most of them involve reflections - changes in the state of the world - and those take place between events. They're resolved by PD in downtime - but your involvement in that ceases 3pm Sunday of the event. Most of those crucial actions involve free-text - either spoken or written down.

But I think to call that a free-text downtime is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature and character of what the crucial characteristics of a free-text downtime are - how they work and what they're for.

In the end it's semantics. You can say potato, I'll say tomato. Or whatever. I think it's valid to look at every part of Empire and say "If we could make this more live - would it be a better game" but I can tell you the military game/generals orders systems are not on my radar of things to improve in that way.

I'm vastly more interested in ways to make apothecary a mechanical uptime system instead of a mechanical downtime system than I am in trying to find ways to make the resolution and reflection of the military wargame happen in uptime while everyone is in-character (that bit is what the battles are for!).

Dour, Untalkative Strangers

  • Matt talking about talking, responding to Grayson Angus' post about having friends (23/05/2019)

There's no right or wrong way to play any game. But there are ways to play LRPs that more people will find rewarding than others.

We (we being we experienced fest LRPers) often talk about the mistake of being a dour untalkative stranger and going to the event planning to sit in the corner of the tavern looking moody and hostile. It's not impossible to enjoy the event that way - but I think most LRPers agree that you heavily tip the odds against yourself if you do that.

So I think it's really useful for people who enjoy Empire to talk about how they enjoy Empire. To me it's like windsurfing... trying and failing is significantly less fun than wizzing over the water with your sail held high. Taking time to say "yeah - this is how I play the game - doing this really works for me" is the LRP equivalent of showing the new player how to pull the sail up, how to sheet-in and any of a dozen other sailing metaphors I neither know nor understand...

Speaking personally I think in Empire my conscious design choice was that your nation would be the single most important choice you would make (probably followed by group and archetype). Your nation is crucial - it's the crucible from which most players will forge not just allies but also goals. You can get by on personal and even group goals - but the easiest way to have fun is to team up with people from your nation and work on national goals.

Having Fun.png
Talking about having fun can help other people have fun.

But the counter-part of that design is that achieving those national goals is totally dependent on interacting with people from other nations. I've seen a few people in some of the nations assume that their national goals can be achieved by roleplaying with people only from their nation. Given that the entire game design is working against you if you pursue that approach - I think it's much harder to have fun that way. It's certainly playing on "hard mode" - in this case I'd expect it to be a fast-track to disappointment.

Wintermark and Navarr are especially vulnerable to that I think - given their size. Dawn less so since they started as one of the smallest nations and have grown to be one of the biggest. But it's definitely not just a large nation issue - I've seen players in every nation do it. Never mind LRPers - people almost naturally tend to look internally for the solutions to their problems. We're tribal by our nature.

Empire is designed so that those national goals require you to interact with players from other nations to achieve them - and crucially to persuade others to support you. As one of our crew pointed out to me - Empire isn't about "What is happening in the world?" - that's usually a very public given. It's about "What are you going to do about it?". The roleplaying is in persuading others to put their goals aside and to support yours.

Of course that's just how best to "succeed". LRP is ultimately the opposite of Yoda's advice to Luke. There is no do - there is only try. It doesn't actually matter in the slightest whether the Druj invade Hahhmark or the Thule capture Siroc - or any of that. The only thing that matters a damn is that you have fun trying to stop them - and trying to do your own thing - whatever that thing is.

And that - as Grayson points out is where talking to other people pays double dividends. Because you don't just get to push your own agenda - you get to have their agenda pushed on you. And that's fun! You get to be prodded and poked by some other players desperate to persuade you to support them at any cost - or at a cost you define. Given that there's one of you and there's 2000 of them - being embroiled in other people's plans is going to fill your event up much faster then doing the embroiling.

My advice on how to enjoy Empire is to think of yourself as the only NPC in a field with 2000 players. It's your job to make their event awesome. First create an interesting character to portray, someone who brings the nation brief to life. Then give yourself some plot goals you need to achieve. Then go out and make yourself available to the 2000 players you want to roleplay with. Stick to your brief - and don't let them persuade you to change your goals unless they roleplay really well at you...

I can't guarantee you'll have fun. LRP is such a complex and uncontrollable medium - there is no way to make people enjoy an event. All you can do is shift the balance of probabilities. But I think if you do what Grayson's said above - or what I've said here (which is just a meta-way of looking at what Grayson is saying in practical terms) then you stack the deck in favour of you enjoying the event.

Friends in all the Right Places

  • A short piece from Grayson Angus , written on the Empire LRP Facebook, about why having friends is good. (23/05/2019)

Why you should have friends in other nations and how it makes your game better.

Angus Grayson.jpg
Grayson is a long-time player of Profound Decisions games
(among others) currently playing Earl Bohemond de
Rondell in Dawn.

Larp is all about caring, caring how your portray your character, that their attitudes are internally consistent, that their costume looks right. It is important that ultimately the things that should matter to you IC do to a meaningful extent. PD are very good at using the format of the Winds of War and Winds of Fortune to tug on our heartstrings in a very elegant fashion. It inspires us, gives us goals and makes wins and losses more exhilarating. It means we mostly as the players hit the ground running each event with a burning to desire to achieve at least one thing.

I posit that by building up either background links or friendships in play you get two or more bites of the cherry. Just like it works in real life you get all of the things that you care about because the affect you and then all of things you care about because it affects your friends, family etc.

With friends/allies/rivals you get invited on more skirmishes, told about plot going on. In effect you are shown glimpses behind the curtain of the game world than you would never otherwise get to see and the game becomes the more vibrant for it. It's also an accelerating affect, to borrow from the Urizen briefa little, every friend in another nation is a node to which other people link.

So my advice to you, any and all, and it's the same to a player with years of experience or none. Talk to that person in the bar, ask what they did in season and ask what they want to achieve at Anvil. Approach groups of people and ask about their nation and what matters to them and why.

Or if all else fails spill a Marchers pint and at least you will get a rival that can really hold a grudge.

Contacting Profound Decisions

  • A reply Matt posted to a request for what to do when emailing Profound Decisions. (13/05/2019)

Being Helpful

Things that players can do to help!

  1. Include your PID by itself at the top of your email. It takes about a minute to look up a player account by name. If I do that 50 times in a day... then that's just a bit short of an hour spent looking up players' details every day!
  2. If you can't manage that - if you don't know your PID then the next useful piece of information is your name. Ideally this needs to be the same name that you use on the database rather than, say, a different name. I get a surprising number of emails from people who provide me with literally no identifying information of any kind. It's like a little magic mystery tour...
  3. Please include any previous email correspondence that are relevant to this one in the body text. I have read and answered 300 emails since I read the one you sent last week... I'm afraid I just do not remember what we were talking about.
  4. Don't put 16 queries in one email. Send them in separate emails. My email inbox is my job queue - so I can't do your email if I can't answer any one of the 16 entries on it. So it will sit there until I can answer everything - which can take weeks or more. Driving me nuts the entire time. If you have different queries for different people - they can be forwarded on easily and quickly in different emails, otherwise I have to start saying "Can you answer points 1 and 3" which is another five minutes gone. One query per email is best.
  5. Don't send me an email that says "You don't need to answer this until after the event". My inbox is my job queue - so I can't leave an email for later - I have to try and work through them as best I can. If you really don't want an answer until next week... don't send it until next week.
  6. Don't send "Thanks" emails. I love you all - dearly - but I spend about thirty minutes a day opening and reading emails that say "Thanks". The best way to say thanks is telepathically.
  7. Don't PM me. PMs are the spawn of Satan. I often end up having to cut and paste your PM into an email that I send myself. (so that it goes into my job queue). So it saves you a minute to PM me and costs me 10 extra minutes just to process receiving your PM... Email is best!
  8. Please try to send the email to the right address. It doesn't matter if you get it wrong - we'll forward internally - but I spend 30 mins a day sending people emails saying "I have forwarded your email to admin". We have a few players who clearly just have my email address saved and use that for everything which is a bit frustrating. You can find the right address here.

That's about everything I think!

E-Mail or PM

There is a time and a place for Facebook PMs, but somethings are better off emailed.

Questions you have that are better emailed:

1) My downtime is broken and need fixing. 2) I am going to cast this wacky ritual on my left foot at the event. 3) My bookings are broken and need fixing. 4) Feedback about how awesome/awful PD are. 5) I want to use this mithril to build a statue of Wendigo. 6) Reports about conduct violations at events. 7) Questions about how the game or rules works. 8) Questions about how LRP works. 9) Questions about how life works.

Stuff that is better sent in a PM:

1) The Wintermark Kallavesi Merrow Mystic Herbalists facebook group is on fire - can you help put it out. 2) Reports that the website/wiki is on fire. 3) Reports that my pants are on fire. 4) Chatty stuff that merits one word answers like "cool", "great" or "yeah".

I think for me the acid test is probably twitter. If you think Matt Pennington is likely to reply in less than 280 characters than PM is cool - arguably even ideal. But bear in mind that I am the sort of person that will reply to Rachel taking the piss out of Chris with a 500 word response on the relative merits of emails vs PMs. I am clearly not normal.

What is a priest anyway?

  • Matt, writing on the Wintermark facebook group, in reference to questions about what actually makes someone a priest. (08/05/2019)

Basically words like "priest" are deliberately vague. Like the real world - it doesn't have a clear definition in Empire - and that's by design. It's not a class based system...

Being involved in religion does not require a congregation. Discussing theology does not require a congregation. Committing heresy does not require a congregation.

Priests are given some wiggle room to discuss potentially heretical things - for the kind of obvious reason that you can't discuss what might or might not be heretical without dicussing something that might or might not be heretical. The definition of a "priest" is entirely subjective, it's pretty much in the eye of the claimant or the beholder depending on your perspective.

But the people who make the key ruling on whether you should be condemned for heresy or not are... the people with the congregations! So it definitely helps to have a congregation - since you can then vote that you're innocent of all charges. (More importantly there is likely to be a statistical bias in favour of synod members by other synod members because of the way human beings work).

Matt also points out that (as of the time of writing) the Imperial Synod does not have the power to convict anyone of heresy or indeed any religious crime.

The Synod condemns you for heresy - and then the magistrates try you for it. So if you haven't actually done anything - you can pretty much expect the magistrates to throw it out. The Synod can't convict you of heresy - and if you've done nothing then you should hope to get off when you go before the magistrates unless you're pretty unlucky.

Opportunities : Good, Bad, and Ugly

  • Here, Matt is talking on Facebook about how and why NPCs - especially barbarians - seem to be able to do things that the Empire has no obvious mechanism to duplicate. It touches on the idea of opportunities - situations presented by the game team that are unique or unexpected. (20/03/2019)

The game has an abstraction layer - we've talked about this before. Periodically we - as part of plot - lift things above the abstraction layer to make plot opportunities out of them. They represent chances for the Empire to take advantage of unique circumstances to do things they couldn't normally do.

For example, when the Empire consecrated the tomb of the Sentinel using true liao - they got a whole pile of opportunities to take advantage of that to do things they couldn't normally do. That's what an opportunity is - it's a chance to do something you can't normally do. If you could normally do it - it wouldn't be an opportunity - it would just be part of the standard rule set.

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The game isn't meant to be fair, it's meant to be fun.

The Empire gets loads of opportunities - they're part of the plot we create as plot writers for the game - to make the events different to each other to make them engaging. Loads of them are economic and spiritual and magical in nature - and a bunch of them are military in nature.

So for last event - we gave the Empire the opportunity to go to Ossium to cast some rituals. That's a military opportunity - to do something you can't normally do.

Usually when we do that - there is a chance for the Barbarians to stop you. Not in an active way in most senses - but in a passive way of being there when you turn up to take advantage of the military opportunity. Not always - plenty of time the Empire gets big military advantages - and the barbarians have literally no way of any kind to stop them - but usually they involve a fight.

Sometimes we also create opportunities for the barbarians. In the sense of "the unique circumstances have allowed them to do this special thing that isn't normally doable". That's exactly like the kind of thing we offer the Empire periodically - in effect it's a "negative" opportunity. It's a chance to make difficult and dangerous decisions to try and prevent something unpleasant happening.

The big difference between Imperial and barbarian opportunities is that we never give the barbarians one that we don't give the Empire the chance to prevent. The barbarians have no equivalent of "Empire can choose to do X special thing - and the barbarians can't stop them". That literally never happens.

If we were being "fair" to both sides then it should happen. We should model all the barbarian armies and give them loads of special cool things each downtime that the Empire can do nothing about... but... the game isn't meant to be fair. It's meant to be fun. We run the game for the players benefit - not the barbarians benefit - so there is zero value in an opportunity for the barbarians that the Empire can't prevent - the only benefit is in opportunities for the barbarians that the Empire can prevent.

Sometimes of course there are more opportunities for the barbarians than the players have chances to prevent. Sometimes you have to pick between stopping wicked Druj or vile Grendel or terrible Jotun and you can't do all three. That's fairly uncommon as it happens - but not unprecedented. And that's harsh (real life is harsh sometimes) - but doesn't change the underlying design criteria that nothing is ever given to the barbarians that the players don't have a chance to stop. It's just not given to the players (always) to be able to stop everything. Sometimes you have to make difficult decisions - the company name after all is not "Easy Choices".

But yeah - it's really totally meaningless to think of the orcs as having abilities the Empire don't have. It simply doesn't work like that in anyway. They operate on the same rules the players broadly speaking - we just layer opportunities for both sides on top of that as part of the plot writing process. Opportunities for the Empire to seize an advantage - and opportunities for the Empire to stop the barbarians seizing an opportunity.

Mortgages, Landfill, and Vagabond Wains

  • This is a post from Matt in reply to a Facebook post on the Empire group from Michael Wheatley asking about the IC (and OOC) legality of destroying Bourse notes, what happens to the wains they represent, and how much the notes are "worth" in terms of Matt's mortgage. (17/03/2019)

Mortgages and Landfill

Okay - firstly thanks for everyone who is thinking of my mortgage - that's very much appreciated. I did indeed remortgage my house to pay for Maelstrom's currency... but that was 16 years ago... Things have changed a lot since then. No mortgages were harmed in the making of this game. Thankfully. :)

Crucially your ability to destroy the economic value of my game is limited by the methods you use. The coins are hugely expensive - but that's because we buy enormous bulk amounts of them. That brings the unit cost down - a one ring coin costs one dollar. That's Hong Kong dollars - not US Dollars.

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No mortgages were harmed in the making of this game.

Thanks to massive devaluation of the British currency (Cheers Brexit!) - that is now equivalent to 10 British Pee. In fact the cost are 50% more than that - due to transport costs - but basically a one ring coin costs about 15 British Pee. Expensive when you have to order 15,000 at a time - but individually not that pricey.

So when someone wanted to get hold of as many 1 ring coins as possible and turn them into armour our response was "Please Don't Do That". But when someone wants to take a handful of 1 throne coins and make jewellery out of them then our response is "knock yourself out".

Yes, it's destroying a phys-rep - but we hold the same view of that that the majority of LRPers probably hold about the idea of destroying a phys-rep that costs 15p to replace. Don't do it for the sake of it - but if it's cool roleplaying - then go right ahead.

The Bourse notes... are made of paper. They're "minted" in a machine called a "laser printer". I don't know what they cost individually - I've never bothered to work that out but I'd be surprised if it was more than One or Two British Pee?

I calculated yesterday that we pay £2.28 a player per event to dispose of the rubbish that players leave behind. Waste disposal was £16,550 last year - gross. It's quite possible that a bourse note costs more to put in landfill than it does to print.

The costs will increase this year - with the new replacement notes that are coming. We haven't finalized costs yet because we're still discussing whether to print them on paper or solid mingium but even so I doubt the new notes will cost more than 4 or 5p each.

So you can destroy as many Bourse Notes as you like in-character - just knock yourself out with that. Go for it. Seriously - I have zero concerns of any kind about you doing that.

But if you're worried about my mortgage - then why not recycle your rubbish and take the bottles and cans home? If everyone did that then that alone would probably save Profound Decisions around £6,000 a year! My mortgage payments are already covered - but it might just help us buy that permanent site we're saving up for. ;)

Vagabond Wains

But what happens to the wain? OMG! Can we haz them plz?

The Civil Service store all the actual wains in carefully protected warehouses all of which are conveniently located beneath the abstraction layer. If you destroy a bourse note, then the wain cannot be accessed - but that's ok - because very occasionally the below abstraction layer warehouses get attacked by below the abstraction layer thieves who steal the below abstraction layer wains. These are not just any thieves - they not doing it for the money - in fact they're a small cult dedicated to preserving the abstraction layer at all costs - so they only steal exactly the right amount of wains needed to preserve the abstraction layer (which they calculate using Day magic).

More realistically I suspect the civil service runs a very small surplus of wains, which is one of the things that allows them to cope with the exceptionally small corruption in an otherwise perfect system whilst almost managing the astonishing feat of miraculously moving any amount of incredibly precious material instantaneously from one end of the Empire to another without any apparent risk or cost.

It's theoretically in-character possible that the Imperial Senate could force the civil service to tally that surplus and hand it over... and if they do that then I personally guarantee that I will use ideas outlined in the paragraph above to make the impact of that so horrific that nobody goes near it with a ten-foot barge-pole. Ask the Master of the Mint if she thinks it's worth adding an extra 0 to every construction cost in the Empire for the next ten years to get her hands on 12 wains of White Granite for free.

(Hint: if she says yes - then it's two 0s. Seriously - I can think of 20 ways to make this idea utterly unpalatable without breaking sweat. There is no profit to be had by players mining the abstraction layer).

Encountering the Brief

... I want to try and lay out a bit more about why (leg and arm wraps are) important – about why the brief is important. And about how best for us all to encourage everyone to keep to the brief most of the time.

For an Imperial Orc costume, Wraps are a really important part of the costume brief. There are some in-character reasons for that - to do with respect for the ancestors and the elders who were marked by slavery. Personally if I were playing an Imperial Orc I'd have fun playing a very hostile character towards anyone who wasn't wearing wraps . If everyone covers the neck and wrists - then nobody can tell who was a slave and who wasn't. By not covering up you're showing off that you weren't a slave... I'd treat it as someone boasting that they're better than the ancestors because they don't have to wear wraps to cover their scars!

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Our approach with Empire is to encourage everyone to make the coolest possible characters they can for the game.

There are some out-of-character reasons for the wraps obviously - they help to cover the lines at the edge of your mask and disguise the fact that you're using a mask and make-up. Since they're mostly just strips of cloth - they're something anyone can get fairly easily - so it's a mechanism to help everyone have better costume.

But more fundamentally - perhaps a better way to say it is to say that wraps are part of the really important costume brief. It's not the wraps that are important – it's the whole brief. They're just one element of it. Like the white and black colour scheme in Highguard, like the headdress in the Brass Coast, like every costume brief for each nation they exist to improve the game for everyone. They briefs are designed to create a coherent look that helps to define a culture and make it feel more real.

A big part of immersion is about familiarity. One of the reasons we fall back on history so much in live-roleplaying is because it's familiar. You've seen these images so often that they feel "real" when you see them - in movies... and in live-roleplaying games. You don't think "what's that" when you see it - you just know what it is - so your character just knows what it is. Familiarity makes the game more immersive for everyone.

With a fantasy game like Empire we don't always have the easy crutch of history to help (though we've ripped off bits of history in plenty of places) - but the costume briefs and the detailed nation briefs try to achieve something similar. By creating a well defined concept for the appearance of a nation - the goal is to make that look familiar for everyone who plays the game.

So everyone who takes the brief to heart and tries to embody it is improving the game for every other player. You're making the world more immersive, you're making it feel more real to them. That's why we encourage everyone to follow the briefs - because it makes a better game.

That doesn't mean you can't deviate from the brief ever. They're deliberately intended to be a loose fit - something that requires personalization by the player as they build their character, so there should be room to create a unique character without departing from the brief.

But it's a costume guide - not a set of costume rules. There are times when you can make a character more interesting for other people to interact with by deviating from the brief and that's okay - provided that your deviation will make your character more interesting for others to interact with though - not less interesting.

What you should never do is just ignore the brief. "I don't like this half of the brief - I'm just going to pretend it's not there" is every bit as bad as "I don't like those rules that say how many hits I have - I'll just ignore them". The brief describes the world - your character is a part of that world - they absolutely will depart from the norms for the world in ways that make them an individual - but it should be as weird for your character to ignore or deny the reality of the world around them as it would be for someone to do that in the real world.

Lets take an example - lets say I'm making an Urizen character - and I don't want to be a magician - I want to be a... dancer. I like the costume, I like elements of the brief and I love music and dancing in live-roleplaying so that's what I want to do.

Dancing isn't really discussed much in the Urizen brief... but they do have a very strong thing about personal space. It's pretty crappy to just say "I don't like that bit - I'm just going to ignore it" - if you do that you're undermining the game of everyone around you. But there's loads of styles of dancing that preserve personal space - you can lean into the brief and look to employ and promote those styles and improve the game for everyone. Now someone might say "You snowflake! You're going off brief - there's nothing about dancing in Urizen!". But there is a big blank space there that you can create something unique for your character in. Urizen has a lot of emphasis on arete - on perfectionism - for many that's about social and magical perfection - but you can redirect that to create a character who sees dance as a way to perfect the physical form - to perfect physical movement. There's great ideas about poise - that you can work into that - about harnessing your emotions to help you achieve that perfection. The point is that you've departed from the brief... but you've done it in a way that acknowledges the reality of the setting and which works that into your character to make them much more interesting than simply "I didn't bother with that bit".

A common reason to go off brief is practicality. That's less true with wraps - which almost everyone should be able to get but the principle is important. I might want a cool broadsword for my Dawnish character - but if I don't have one and I don't have the £100 I need to buy one - then that's fine. Costume is a practical matter - there are always compromises to be made. The trick here is not to make a big deal of it - don't make the fact that you don't have the right piece of kit central to your character - because then it will keep coming up every time people roleplay with you. Every time we interact - you'll be drawing attention to the flaws of the game. Just don't mention it - and 99% of the time it will be just fine. Everyone is encouraged to improve their costume over time - you can get that cool Dawnish broadsword that would be perfect for your character when you're in a position to be able to afford it or to make it.

More generally though - when departing from the brief - you'll often hear people say "It's ok - I have a reason for it". It's important to stress that the IC reasons for deviating from the brief are completely irrelevant from a game perspective. This is roleplaying in a world of magic - you can literally justify anything with very little difficulty. You can invent a rationale to justify why your Marcher character has a 17th century cavalry sabre or one to explain why your Urizen character have a Jedi light-sabre. You can justify anything in live-roleplaying - it is trivially easy to do so.

The baseline assumption is that there is always a reason why your character is the way that they are. Departing from the brief in a positive cool way is out-of-character justified by the fact that your departure creates a unique interesting character that still reflects the world, not by the in-character explanation that accompanies it.

Obviously the principle that if your departure from the brief makes the game more interesting for everyone else (and it's that focus on others that is crucial here - not the focus on you!) then it's cool and if it doesn't then it's not great is completely subjective. You can't arbitrate that, you can't rule on that basis - it's a matter of taste. Just like any part of designing a good costume and designing a good character is a matter of taste. But it's you that gets the pay-off if you get it right - because the cooler your character is - the more fun other people have interacting with you - the more they'll want to come and roleplay with you - so the more fun you'll have at the event.

Our approach with Empire is to encourage everyone to make the coolest possible characters they can for the game. Doing that makes the game more enjoyable for everyone who takes part. A crucial part of that is building a character that embodies the brief and brings it to life - but a significant part is identifying things that make your character interesting to interact with - and some of those can be the things that make you different to "the average Imperial Orc" - which is another way of saying "departs from the brief".

We do discourage people being openly critical of character and costume choices. The internet is the most god-awful platform for giving anyone negative or critical feedback about their roleplaying. That's just going to piss the recipient off and make the whole thing unpleasant for everyone. It's ok if someone offers up a picture of a character they're creating and asks for advice on how to make it cooler - that's fine - but nobody should be telling other people what they can or can't play. The point where we start calling people snowflakes for departing from the brief is the moment we shift from trying to support each other and have the best possible game to old-fashioned bullying. We won't make Empire an awesome game by ostracising people and driving them out for the imagined crime of making a different character to us.

So please don't "police the brief". It's 100% cool to encourage everyone to follow the brief and we ask everyone to do that. It's cool to pick out awesome bits of the brief and encourage people to share and use them. It's cool to provide feedback on request on how to make something more on brief. That's all good. What's not acceptable is players telling other players that they're doing it wrong. If you're genuinely convinced someone is so far off brief that it's bad for the game - discuss that with PD. Every player will have their own interpretation of the brief - different interpretations are valid and nobody - not even us - has the perfectly correct one. If the brief really does needs policing - then we're the authority to do that.

Ultimately the brief is there for everyone - to inspire players to create the coolest possible character - to make the setting more immersive and real for everyone who plays. The baseline is that everyone should follow it when building their character - whether that's wraps in the Orcs or a tagelmust in the Brass Coast. We expect you to depart from that at some point when you're creating your character - that's totally cool. What we ask is that you do that because you've designed a cool character that's fun for others to interact with, that the points where you depart from the brief make your character more interesting for others to roleplay with. And for the most part you'll be the judge of that - not other players - so it's on you to get that right. That's how we can all work together to create the best possible game for us all to play.

Difficult Topics

  • A short post from Matt about replying to a discussion about racism and uncomfortable elements in the game. (25/02/2019)

It is fine to be racist against orcs. Also briars, the lineaged, the unvirtuous, etc. These categories exist in our game - in part - so that you can not like members of them.

We've done everything we can think of to divorce them from real world parallels. In general that means that I would hope that most players will not have an issue discriminating on grounds related to these issues.

Occasionally we will stray by accident into something that doesn't work - that doesn't produce a good game that is welcoming to everyone. And that's ok - we make mistakes - to err is human. The key is to learn from the mistake, and move on - not get hung up on it. Every day's a school day! That's what we're trying trying to do here.

I don't want to run a game that is so cautious at the prospect of potentially upsetting anyone that we don't allow anything. I think that is self-defeating. And there are parts of the Empire setting that are upsetting to some people because they deal with sensitive issues like infant death, refugees, or genocide - and they are still included. We pick and choose what sensitive topics Empire will include not because there is a right and a wrong set of choices to make but rather so that consistent choices can let players can pick and choose if that creates a game they want to play.

So I'd encourage people to be sensible - avoid things that are obviously playing on real world tropes about racism to the best of your knowledge. Crucially when we accidentally wander into something then just acknowledge that and adjust. If something crops up that isn't appropriate - we'll just let people know and it doesn't have to be a big deal.

Crime and Criminality

A design page talking about crime and criminals, written by Matt, can be found here.

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Creating a new part of the setting is almost never done at the last moment.

The Making of Tsark

So, Andy’s asked me to write a little bit of a “behind the scenes” on the big piece of plot writing I did for the last event, which was the final development work and writing up of Tsark - or, as players previously knew it, the Mountains of the Moon.

Behind the scenes, we have most of the continent on which the Empire lies mapped out at least in abstract - and as such we’ve known for some time that there was a territory between Axos and the Empire, north of Skoura. We thought they were independent orcs of some kind - clearly not warlike because otherwise they’d have attacked the Empire at some time. At some point, the idea of there being a big lake there became attached.

That’s mostly what we had for a while - and I say we, certainly before I started plot writing in 2015. But - as we started to do more stuff with the Axos in plot, and it became clearer that they’d be interested in a trade route with the Empire - the question as to exactly what was going on with “Ind Orcs? Peaceful? Lake??” raised its head. That’s more or less where I came in - I think we first started talking about this perhaps mid-2016, when I was doing a lot of work on religions outside the Way’s doctrine, and I started seriously thinking about what was going on there. The first piece of plot relating to them went out later that year… but I don’t think anybody knows it’s connected yet.

We do a lot of that sort of thing - plots within plots, things relating to other things. I’m not the specialist in it - that’s Kat Quatermass, who is, in my opinion, the undisputed master of threading lots of little bits together for ages which all relates to an underlying narrative. But I was doing it a little here. Over the winter of 2016 we defined a few more bits about Tsark - not named yet, that would come later - and then further on into 2017 and 2018 there were a few more plots relating to Axos which touched upon it - articulating clearly “we want to explore this territory” from some NPCs is a great way of telegraphing to PCs that “you should care about this”.

You’ll notice the big gap there - we basically can’t get much in the way of plot development done over a season! - so as we headed into 2018 Tsark was quite well sketched out in lots of fragments, but nothing was pinned down. I had quite a bad E1, personally - I can’t actually remember why now, I suspect it was just stressy and I didn’t feel that useful - and in the end I ended up missing E2… after which we had been expecting to have to write the report. The spy network was delayed, however - the Empire had lost the necessary territories - and so we had another season. Obviously we didn’t actually get anything written until after E3…

So it’s now a few weeks until E4. It’s crunch time. I need to get this written. So I sit down and draw, properly, a sketch of the map - and suddenly it comes alive. There’s something about actually defining a place that means the people come out of it.All these places you can now see on the spy report, they all just sort of flowed. In terms of look and feel of the geography and how they dress, a lot of inspiration came from the Andes. I was pretty clear that the lake is exactly like one of the beautiful caldera lakes that exist there. Having decided that, I couldn’t resist putting llamas in - they’re beautiful creatures - and so they must have wool… and then it made sense to have colorful woven wools, which are both common in that part of the world in real life, and also distinguishes them from the Skourans. The Andes is also where the terrace farms come from - trying to think “so how do people with this geography grow their food”? I think this is at my core what I aim for - trying to make things feel like they have internal integrity, real. So - where do the names come from? Tsark is quite subtle.There’s a little easter egg there, that I’m sure keen people will find… Most of the rest of the names come from Macedonian - mainly because it roughly fits some of the etymology we’ve used in this part of the world, and it had the right “feel”. I didn’t want to just make up “fantasy names” - I’m really bad at that and I think it can often up sounding not so good. Picking mostly homogeneous names was much better. The only exception was kabaddi - we went back and forth on this and in the end felt that taking somebody’s national game was all very well, but arbitrarily renaming it left a bad taste in our mouth - so we left it. I think - I hope - it still fits.

I knew there was a lake, and the regions around it, and Skoura and Axos and the Empire both had forts on passes… but what form would those forts take? At some point I thought of the maze. We’d talked about having lots of traps and so forth, but the idea of a maze, a movable maze, that was seriously cool. It was inspired, I think, by something from Trials of Death by Darren Shan - an awful pulp series from my childhood, although that was far more lethal. Then we had the disc of mithril - designed to show the degree of wealth of the territory, but also how much they don’t use mithril for the things the Empire does.

We knew they had a sport of some kind; that, because they were mostly orcs (they’d become orcs and humans at some point in development when we were mapping out parts of their histories) they likely had a way of boiling off the natural orc inclination towards aggression, so a contact sport made sense… and I liked kabbadi in my childhood. It doesn’t need much equipment, you could imagine people playing it in mountains… sorted! What else did they do in their leisure time - well, I’ll be a little quiet about exactly how their culture works - but we knew they valued thought, discussion, compassion. A lot of the religion that the Empire’s seen so far looks in my mind a lot like Quaker meetings - or at least my experiences of them - and that sort of meaningful stillness is something I tried to capture.

Then there was the Wall of the Luge and the Lake. These features dominate the territory; I had to have the look really tightly down. The Wall is really quite important for the culture of Tsark, clearly, but again I’ll keep silent about why some people might want to build a mural that dominates the skyline. I’ve been re-watching Game of Thrones recently, and the visual of the Wall there definitely informed my thinking when finalising it. The lake ended up full of algae when we were trying to work out how they got more of their food, and how likely - or not - the lake was going to be swimmable. I vaguely remembered that in lakes with metal contamination algae can bloom… and suddenly I had a way for the lake to shine in the moonlight! Which justified the original name.

So I hope that’s given a bit of a taste of how we write a place - sometimes last minute to get it all in a scramble, but all the time trying to make it make sense, try to give it a clear sense of fitting, of being real. I think - I hope - we’ve mostly succeeded. I’ll be interested to see what - if anything - the Empire choose to do with Tsark next; they have a lot of other things on their plate right now! But it is not in the nature of this game to stop providing new opportunities for people to make profound decisions...

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Empire is a game with a distinct style.

Taking No Prisoners

  • Matt writing in response to some of the discussions around the Druj invasion of Morrow, dealing with broader topics around the design of Empire (23/08/2018)

Empire is a game that has a distinctive style. We've always tried very hard to be honest about what that style is - it's a low fantasy game of politics and war - one where victory is not guaranteed and where loss can be awful. Crucially it is not a game that takes prisoners - if your actions and the actions of other PCs leaves you in the lurch then you pay a terrible price for that - on the battlefield or in the campaign.

That style of game doesn't suit everyone. Some people just don't enjoy it - and that's totally cool. We've never tried to build a game that suits everyone - the only thing everyone drinks is water.

But the nature of fest LRP events like Empire is that people come to the game for very different reasons. Some enjoy the exciting uptime battles, some people prefer the vibrant camp life. Some people like doing rituals or giving speeches in Conclave. Some people like to chase the plot or try to develop new rituals. There are a lot of different games you can play and enjoy.

But that does mean that it's possible to play Empire for a long time - years potentially - without realising that it includes elements that you really don't enjoy. And with the best will in the world - people rarely actively enjoy the bit where your side is losing. That's rarely the most fun part of any game. So I think it's attendant on everyone to appreciate that people can definitely react to the Winds of War in a way that is "This fucking sucks" and it's completely legitimate to say "This - this bit where we get screwed because of actions taken in game - that's the bit of Empire I really don't enjoy".

Those are perfectly reasonable responses and they're a legitimate criticism of the game - "this game includes elements I don't personally like - I wish it didn't". For years I've spoken with people who didn't enjoy Empire who told me variants of "It's boring - it needs a sense of threat - I want to feel in danger when I'm walking round the field at night". That's a perfectly legitimate criticism of a game - we're not changing the game - but people are not "wrong" for not liking things they don't like. Taste... is a matter of taste.

So it's fair enough for people to not like it when an element of the game that they don't like gets foregrounded. Telling people to leave or complaining that they are criticizing the game organizers for not liking something they don't like is not a helpful response. Some people will quit when they discover Empire has parts they don't enjoy and some people will hang on until the pendulum swings and those elements recede and they can resume participating in the bits of the game they do enjoy. It would be nice if everyone gave those players the room to play the parts of the game they enjoy - rather than demanding they sign up for it all or bugger off.

Likewise - people who have discovered elements of Empire that they don't like should also appreciate that those parts were always there, that plenty of players can take joy in being pounded by their enemies and that people can take joy from playing a game where decisions have consequences. Just as it's not very helpful to tell people that they're wrong for not enjoying something, it's not very helpful to rain on the parade of everyone who is chomping at the bit to do something about the latest developments.

Crucially if you do want those bits of the game where the Druj burn all your stuff to go away - then you really need those players who are fired up to go and do something about that to go to the event and do something about that. Encourage them to play their game - and if they succeed - then the bits of the game where the military campaign has major consequences for Urizen will likely go away again. What you don't want to do is bring those people down - otherwise it just carries on getting worse.

So yeah - live and let live. Empire is a big game - lots of parts people can enjoy - and some room for people not to enjoy all the elements of it. Respect people's choices and respect their right to enjoy the bits they like and the bits they don't like - but try to post in ways that don't bring the mood down for everyone excited to go to the event and take revenge on the Druj and the other people responsible please!

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Only actions are virtuous.

Victory and Loss

  • This was written on Facebook by Matt in response to some discussion about the Druj invasion of Morrow. (22/08/2018)

One of the key things to understand about the military campaigns in Empire is that they run on military and mathematical rules.

What that means is that the outcomes are determined by a set of mathematical rules. We just add up all the points on one side, compare them to the points on the other side and the spreadsheet does the rest. Then Andy Raff writes the flavour text.

The inputs are determined by military rules. The Empire - I assume - makes strategic and military decisions on where to put its armies. And we - as the commanders of the barbarians do the same. We look at the intelligence we're given and put our armies where our best stab (pun intended) says we should go.

Crucially what that means is that we don't go where the narrative says we should. In most stories, the outcomes are determined by what makes the best drama. Things happen according to the inexorable laws of maximum dramatic tension. Elan from Order of the Stick is a great example of a character who knowingly lives in just such a world.

It would have been stupendously easy for us to maximise the dramatic tension here. As will become clear later today there are other campaign theatres where we could have sent the Druj armies where arguably they would have created a better dramatic narrative. The Highborn armies could have fought the Druj to a standstill - while other conflicts played out for drama.

We didn't do that for a while bunch of reasons - lack of military intelligence to justify those military decisions were the IC reasons. But the OOC reasons was because we're not running for drama... we're running on maths and strategy.

That's pretty gutting when you take a huge loss like this one. And this is as Gerard Kurth eloquently describes it a "Holy shit" moment. It's pretty darn brutal. Is it more brutal than when the players fuck up on a battle and 50+ of them die? It's kinda the campaign equivalent I think.

But it does mean that when you get victories - you can be 100% confident that they happened because you outsmarted your opponents - you outplayed them.

That's because victory in Empire is not guaranteed. That's absolutely crucial to playing the game - if we run the numbers and rocks fall and everyone dies... then we'll publish a wind of war in which rocks fall and everyone dies. We'll find a way to run it out to the end of the year - and then next year we'll run a different game. (I have form).

But if the Empire triumphs and packs the Druj off to the history books it will be because they genuinely triumphed. You will know to the bottom of your hearts that it was real in every meaningful sense. The risk with any game in which you run for drama is that it can hollow out the sense of victory. If victory is the inevitable outcome - then what does it really mean to triumph? If the military campaign outcome was going to be written to produce a nail-biting stand-off... regardless of how many armies the Empire committed to that theatre... then why bother sending anyone?

I've seen a few times the players be surprised when their players actions don't equate to success. But Empire is absolutely founded on the idea that it isn't enough to just do something - you have to actually win to win. There are no victories for just turning up - this is not a story being told in which the heroes triumph. While the odds faced by the Urizen seem impossible - that's simply a consequence of the collective decisions made by the players - they most certainly could have been different.

We genuinely don't know how the story plays out. We literally have no more clue than you do. It's part of what makes running Empire fun. But it does mean that sometimes you get fantastic awesome results - and sometimes you get a whole sequence of gut punches that seem relentlessly brutal.

tl:dr; What Ed Rolison said. (To be fair, Ed has been playing LRPs run by me and my friends for 14 years!).

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Winds of War is an involved process involving a lot of notes.

Writing Winds of War

  • A post from Raff about the process of writing Winds of War (May 2018)

Given we've got nothing better to do I thought I'd write a short (for a given value) piece about how Winds of War get written, which touches on the way we work through the whole downtime military campaign. You might find it interesting.

The orcs plan their moves
Before every event, we talk about what the orcs are doing. "We" in this case means me, Matt, and Graeme but may include other people on a case-by-case basis. We sketch out the broad plan for each of the orc nations, with reference to the quests, skirmishes, battles, and delegations for the next event. We nail down where their armies are going and what they are doing, although we sometimes leave the exact order they're taking until later. There'll often be a variable in the mix - the players will often have the chance to do things on the field that will effect what one orc nation or another will do.

This bit often involves heated arguments, all sorts of logical fallacies, accusations of now knowing the brief, and arguments about what might happen and how much a given orc nation cares about mithril. It can go on for sometime.

We lock in our strategy, especially with regard to enchantments or curses the orc magicians are using.

The Event Happens
The event happens. Everything catches fire and falls into a swamp. The players choose which battles to take and they succeed or fail or partially succeed or what have you. This may or may not adjust the orders the orcs are taking in a given campaign. Sometimes an enchantment or curse goes off because of a quest failing; sometimes an orc army shifts its allegiance due to the result of a battle. Things like that.

On Sunday the generals submit their orders, usually to Graeme Jamieson. The Quartermaster announces who will be getting the guerdon.

At least one of us - ideally two of us - is careful to make sure they have no idea what the players are doing. It's tricky sometimes but we do our best.

We then review the orc strategy, and lock in specific orders if that's still needed.

We Analyse the Situation in Theory
Once we're properly committed, Graeme tells us what the Imperial players are doing. Sometimes we kick ourselves because if we'd just done something else things would have been different. We're often surprised. We discuss in broad terms the likely outcomes of the various campaigns, and how much additional force will need to be applied to change outcomes and the like. This bit doesn't usually achieve much beyond being a lot of fun.

Then we open downtime.

Downtime Happens
Downtime happens. Players assign their military units to support armies and fortifications and what have you.

Then we close downtime.

Campaign Processing
Once downtime is closed, Matt presses the red button and processes it. This takes a few hours. We twiddle our thumbs and I have a nice hot cup of coffee.

Once downtime is processed, we know where all the military units are and what strength they are. Graeme factors these into his spreadsheet. He adds in all the variables - enchantments, curses, special plot opportunities or levies, weird shit I've convinced people to let me do because of giant pieces of scenery, that kind of thing.

Then he presses his red button and it's time for the exciting bit.

We Go Through the Battles
We go through each camaign in turn, double-triple-checking numbers at every stage. We now know the outcome - it's simply numbers. Someone won, someone lost, or it's a double-defend. Regions change hands, or not. Thousands of imaginary soldiers are killed.

We're also at this stage starting to build a picture of the battle. "This would have been worse if they had done X" or "They have squeaked through because of Y and Z" or "If there had been b, then c would/wouldn't have happened".

I make a load of notes about this sort of stuff. We're usually left with a broad sketch of each wind of war at this stage.

More Notes
More notes. I spend a day or so looking at the orders from each player general, at the notes we made way back when we locked in the orc strategies, at the descriptions of the various effects especially the rituals and plot opportunities/levies, and most importantly at the territory that's being fought over. I review previous winds of war. Notes are made. By this stage each campaign will be a string of bullet points.

Write Winds of War
I write winds of war, one at a time, based on inspiration. In each case I try to find a "hook" that will turn the story from "we bashed two numbers together and the highest won" to something players can build their own stories about. The narratives can be long and complex - I try as much as possible to give each army a little spotlight time, and to mention significant magical effects, as well as calling out anything that happened during the main events that adds to the story - especially battle outcomes. Not everything makes the cut, of course, but everything contributes to making "two numbers highest wins" into something people can get excited about (or angry, or sad, or fired up about).

One of the challenging things when writing Winds of War is that we have to remember that we're not writing about a single battle but about three months of maneuvering, fighting, recuperating, and the like. Matt compares the downtime battles to the military campaigns of Wellington across Spain, while the PCs on the field engage in uptime activities take the role of Sharpe. Broad strokes, and a feeling of scale are what's needed for the Winds of War - leaving some wiggle room for the players to create their own personal narrative of what they did on their (bloodsoaked) holidays.

There's a few metarules here - we never mention individual characters or military units. We try hard to make sure that the coolest write-ups are given to the battles where the Empire suffers the most setbacks. As much as possible we try to bring out the individual characters of the orc nations, the territories where the fighting is happening, and the personalities of the armies and the orders given.

The writeups also contain a little setting building as often as not, and there will often be nods to or foreshadowing of things that are happening at the next event or in the wider campaign. For example, the fact the Jotun have sent a delegation to talk to the Thule, or the new ettercap strategies in Liathaven, or the hints of Yaw'nagrah influencing the vallorn, and so on.

The last part is the game information section which lays out clearly as possible the outcome not only of the campaign but of any significant impacts of the territory. This is also when we finalise any opportunities or special roleplaying effects or what have you.

Once I'm happy with one, it gets thrown at Matt to check over. He makes a load of pointy-haired-boss-changes to my deathless prose. Not a single Winds of War writing cycle goes by without an hour long argument over the tone of a single paragraph or in particularly intense cases, a single sentence.

At this stage we also finalize the order they'll be announced in - usually the order that will create the most drama and (hopefully) drum up the most enthusiasm.

Easter Eggs!
We decide on a naming theme for each of the Winds. We congratulate ourselves on how clever we are and how hard it will be for players to guess it. Mostly because I was not hugged enough as a child and we don't get out often enough.

Pictures!
I go and enlist the aid of some photodroids to find me some pictures. They get a bullet point list vaguely outlining what I want "Highguard looking grim" or "Sad Marchers" or "Something with the League or the Brass Coast ideally with trees" or what have you. Beth, Tim, Oliver and occasionally sundry others help me out and I narrow down the pictures.

Last Check
We do a last check through. By this stage Tom is well into creating the battle opportunities for the next event and we make sure that where possible the Winds of War foreshadow or support these so as to make the game world more coherent.

Then we start putting them live on Facebook, and the forum ninjas import them to the forums, and we update the wiki page in the aforementioned "maximum drama/impact" order. This is the really fun bit most of the time.

I add the hashtags, which keep me happy. There's a flurry of discussion and reactions. At least one comment gets deleted by someone.

If there's a particularly complicated WoW (it's usually the last one), it might still be unfinished, but there's plenty of time to work on it while putting the finished ones live. Normally.

At some point during this someone guesses the naming theme.

Added Value
We've added a few new steps in the last couple of events. We put up a last Wind of War that is about the upcoming major conjunctions - battles and skirmishes - with a variable amount of information. This helps people speculate about what the opportunities are, as well as hopefully letting people other than generals feel invested in the decisions that will be made during Friday night's muster.

As of last event, volunteers working with Ian record the Winds of War as sound files so that people who don't enjoy or have time to read reams and reams of glorified fanfiction can enjoy them.

Back to the Start
Then we go back to the start; we sketch out the broad strategies for the orcs, and lock in the locations of their armies and the like.

The rest of our writers start finalising the quests, battles, skirmishes, and field plots for the coming event. While everyone else works on that, Matt and I turn our attention to our next writing job - Winds of Fortune.

Epilogue
That was a lot longer than I expected when I started. I'm hoping that means the PD internet is now back up again and I can get Spiral finished and posted. If you've read this far, I salute you.

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Downtime is straightforward, and there's no requirement for you to
actually do anything if you don't want to.

Worrying About Downtime?

  • Andy Raff on Downtime, modified from an original post to the Empire Facebook page (November 2017)

With an eye to the fact this may be some of your first events, I thought I'd do a quick guide to Downtime and whether you need to worry about it.

First of all, the actual wiki page for downtime is here.

How to do it
Go to the Profound Decisions website and log in. On the drop down at the top, go to Your Account -> Characters and click on your character name. From there, you can spend xp, manage your inventory, and submit your downtime by following the helpful wizard. For now I'm going to concentrate on "Downtime".

The Interlude Page
When we open downtime, we put together an "interlude" page that contains a bunch of reminders and explanations about special effects that are in play. You can find it from anywhere on the main wiki by going to The Empire at the top of the page, selecting "Recent History" from the drop down, and going to the Winds of Fortune page for the next event.

Your Personal Resource
Some personal resources let you make choices about what they do in downtime.

  • Mine, forest, herb garden, farm, business, mana site - these straightforward resources just produce whatever they produce. You don't even need to log in - the only reason to do so would be to check your projected income for the next event, and to double check that any enchantment you had cast on them has worked (but see Overclocking below).
  • Congregation - you can choose to sell some of the liao you produce. You can automatically sell liao for (currently) 18 rings a dose if you want some cash for some reason. If you want all your tasty, tasty liao you don't need to worry about downtime.
  • Fleet - If you leave your fleet to its own devices, it will engage in privateering and produce you a chunk of resources of a random type. However, you have another option - you can send your fleet to trade with a foreign port. Each foreign port provides different income; selecting ports from the drop down automatically calculates what your income will be.
  • Military unit - If you leave a military unit to its own devices it will engage in paid work, producing a chunk of resources of a random type. As with a fleet though you have more options - you can choose to assign your military unit to support an Imperial army, defend a fortification, or assist a special project such as a spy network. By assigning a military unit to an Imperial army, you can browse the orders the general has issued, Depending on what you support, you may or may not get shares of the Imperial Guerdon - only some armies provide an income when supported by military units as determined by the Quartermaster General of the Imperial Armies each event.

Overclocking
If you own a mine, forest, or herb garden you can choose to "overclock" them. This costs you 6 crowns which needs to be in your inventory, and produces an extra 5 ingots, 5 measures, or 7 herbs respectively. Characters with a mana site have also recently gained the ability to "overclock" their resources using the "white seed" - a unique alchemical product from the Principalities of Jarm. Unlike the other resources, you can choose to spend more money to gain more crystal mana rather than simply paying 6 crowns.

In both cases, the money to pay for overclocking must be in your inventory - that is you should hand it in in to GOD in your event baggy after the event

Upgrading and diversifying
Any personal resource can be upgraded. Depending on the resource, it requires either white granite, mithril, or weirwood. The number of wains you need is equal to the new rank, and you can upgrade a resource a maximum of one rank each downtime.

To upgrade, just select the option in downtime after making sure you have the appropriate number of wains in your inventory. Diversification works the same way, but changes some of your basic production to something else - mines, forests, farms, and businesses all have diversification options.

Ministries
A particular subset of Imperial Titles come with a "ministry" - the ability to swap something for something else in Downtime. For example, ambassadors can purchase trade goods while the Overseer of the Gloaming Road can trade iridescent gloaming for mithril with the Faraden. Obviously, you only need to worry about this if you have a ministry. If in doubt, check the page for your title on the wiki.

Artisans
If you have the artisan skill, you also log in to Downtime to make your magic items. You need to make sure you have the materials you need in your inventory, and pick the items you want from the dropdown. Because of the way the game is designed, everyone with the artisan skill has the ability to make at least one item - a two-month item that requires no materials.

Arcane Projections
You also use the downtime system to prepare an arcane projection. You need to make sure you have 10 mana crystals in your inventory, then follow the instructions on the screen. Arcane Projections are documents that allow ritual magicians to perform spontaneous magic. You must submit your arcane projection before the event, but there is usually a short window after Winds of Fortune are published to allow last-minute submissions.

That's about it
In summary then. You don't need to do anything with your personal resource, or log in to do anything during downtime. Your resource will produce something automatically, and there's not a lot more to worry about with our downtime system. We keep the downtime system as streamlined and straightforward and devoid of extraneous clicking as we possibly can! If you're having any problems, you can ask for assistance from a fellow player or e-mail matt@profounddecisions.co.uk with as many details of your problem as possible.

Winds of Fortune

  • This post was shared on Facebook to the Empire group, and deals with the purpose of Winds of Fortune. It was originally in response to a player feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Winds of Fortune material before every event. Matt is not what you might call a natural football fan... (18/7/2018)
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I like to try and read the news most days. And the Grauniad is my paper of choice for English news because it's free and it fits my bias.

But I pick and choose the bits I'm interested in - I assume nobody actually reads all that stuff about football or sports and stuff... I mean there was a thing... and like some people played football and... someone won. Or something. Germany I assume - I mean they usually win everything. Or Brazil? I mean I could care less....

The Winds are just "Empire News" - they are there so people whose characters are well informed can be well informed and to create stuff people can choose to roleplay about in the field. But it's perfectly fine for it to be just "more articles about football". Nobody should read articles about football unless they want to and they enjoy reading them.

If I could find a way to say "This content is a supplement to your game - it is optional - you don't need to read any of it - you can just go into play and roleplay finding out the news" then we would.

But there is literally no way that I can think of to say that that works. I don't know what words would communicate that in a way that would make any difference at all to people. We've tried really hard - but nothing works.

Personally I suspect the game is probably more fun if you don't read them. I think I'd enjoy turning up and being wide-eyed and knowing nothing and be like "What? The Columbians have won! That can't possibly have happened. Why weren't the Belgians using the 4-7-5 formation". I don't really understand football so I think the analogy has probably gone too far now... but basically I'd find it more fun to play in the field than read online.

Now obviously the fun of that relies on the fact that some people do want to read it online and get super-excited about it. And it seems a bit rude to make them do all the work and do none of the heavy-lifting yourself. But statistically - there doesn't seem to be a shortage of people mad keen to read the winds. So I don't think I'd lose any sleep over the work they put in to make your game better so they can portray well-briefed NPCs who know whats happening when you turn up in-character.

But... it just doesn't make a difference. Its mere existence seems to act as a psychic anchor for some players and I genuinely cannot work out what on earth we can do to help other than to just say over and over (largely ineffectively) "Just don't read/worry about it."

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Using Social Media

  • This post was originally made by Matt on Facebook, on the Wintermark group, as part of a discussion about advertising In Character services, and talking about your group and such on Facebook. in it he talks a bit about our approach to Social Media and its positive impact on the game. (7/4/2018)

My view has always been that players advertising services on Facebook does give an advantage to players who are active on Facebook and reading the group regularly over those players who aren't.

But an advantage at what? At getting involved, at finding game, at knowing about places to go, help seeking out characters to talk to. Basically help having fun at the event?

I think it's hard to convincingly critique much of that. Our goal is to get as many people involved and enjoying the game as possible. I'd give that advantage to everybody if I could. It doesn't matter to me if one player finds it easier to enjoy the event than another - equality in enjoyment is not the goal - the goal is to get everybody more involved - to make it easier for everyone to have fun. If a rising tide lifts some boats more than others... I'll accept that.

For the most part roleplaying games are fundamentally cooperative out-of-character. They're not like sports - it's not just about winning and losing and competing. The more fun you are having... in a game in which much of the roleplaying is cooperative player-with-player - then it's likely that I'm having more fun. A busy bustling field full of characters going about their business is a cooler game setting for everyone - even if you personally are less informed on what is happening.

It's easy to think of these things in terms of competitive advantages - because some of the game is competitive in-character. Players compete against each to become senators, cardinals, grandmasters - and so on. Now clearly it would damage enjoyment to turn up and find everything like this had been stitched up in advance on Facebook - that would spoil the fun - not just for the person losing out but for everyone coming out on top as well.

But that's why we limit the scope of what people can post - IC adverts of services are fine - organizing meetings is fine - pushing agendas and discussing issues... is over the line. It's fine to find out what is going on on Facebook - but play out your response to that when you're live in the field.

I welcome any discussion of these things (provided it stays civil!) but PD have a pretty well developed sense of where we think the line is these days and generally speaking we're pretty happy with that. We're not going back to the bad old days of "FOIP" - that is not happening.

What I would say is this - posting adverts on Facebook and having signs at the event is not an either/or. You can do both... You can post adverts for stuff on Facebook... AND you can make Anvil a much cooler place by building beautiful signs...

Savagery and Civilisation

  • An essay about the Navarr from two of the writers who worked on the original nation design - Ian Thomas and Damian Brewiss - written in 2012

Ian wrote this as an explanatory document for Navarri players on Facebook, and it has been added here to reach the rest of the player base. There's been a lot of discussion about the Navarri outlook, and what it is and what it isn't. I thought I'd try and expand on some of the outlook that we were going for when we wrote the brief. This, of course, doesn't restrict how you can play it -- it's entirely up to you. However, this'll hopefully give you an idea of where we were coming from.

There're two things I'll cover: Navarri attitude and ways of reconciling the savage with the civilised

Attitude, Pragmatism, and Realism
The shortest way I can think of to sum this up is 'pragmatic realism'.

Let the Dawnish have their romantic notions about laying a lover down on a bed of roses - the Navarri know that such a bed would be rather spiky, and probably have more than a few spiders, wasps, and other crawly things in it.

The Navarr are straightforward, and see things for what they are. They are rarely superstitious.

They are not threatened by nature, nor do they try to preserve it. A tree is a tree. It's useful for wood and for making things, or for getting fruit from. A tree isn't a spirit. It doesn't need to be nailed with iron to make it dead.

There is no war with nature. Equally, there is no eco-friendly movement in Empire, for we are not in an industrialised society - humanity has barely scratched the surface of the world the Navarr live in. Nature, if it was a war, is winning hands down.

The Spring Realm, the Spring eternals and the Vallorn are a different matter. In Vallorn-infested areas, nature grows out of control, like a cancer. It's not nature's fault - it's the wild out-of-control infusion of Spring power. That is what the Navarr must keep under control at all costs, and they'll do their utmost to destroy that threat, one which they feel more than a little responsible for causing. And they need the Empire to be strong to do that.

In the wild, life's a bitch. Decisions need to be quick. No great debates on philosophy and morality - that threat needs dealing with right now. Honour's all very well, but this is about survival - use the poison, dig a pit, attack them while they sleep.

Yes, Navarr are friendly and welcoming to those of other nations - of course they are. It's nice to interact with someone who isn't trying to stab or eat you. And they might have some decent food and soft toilet paper to trade...

They are not inherently nasty or cruel. They're generally a cheerful nation, happy to celebrate with others. It's only their enemies who get the sharp edge. And the Navarri are totally supportive of the rest of the Empire. But if the rest of the Empire is being stupid (=leading the Empire into danger), the Navarr will not be reticent in calling them on it.

The best exponent of Navarri philosophy I can think of is Granny Weatherwax in Pratchett's Discworld series. Totally practical. Cut right to the heart of the matter. When you have two knives, one of which is decorated with runes and one of which is a breadknife, the only thing that matters is which is sharper. No flim-flam - or rather, no believing your own flim-flam. Which leads on to my next point…

Civilisation and Savagery
The Navarr are not savages. They may be brutally pragmatic, and may kill a captive as a matter of pragmatism where others might be merciful (*stab*, and then if questioned:"Well, I wasn't carrying that guy back to camp past those Orcs, and there's no way we could leave him alive to report to the enemy. And if we took him prisoner, we'd have to feed him.") But that's an attitude which comes from in-the-field necessity.

The Navarr are not uncivilised. They may not have the latest in forge-smelting technology or carry around a printing press, but that's because they are forced by their duty to travel. They have no choice. They'll happily take the latest greatest Imperial tech with them - particularly if it's a decent form of waterproofing for a cloak! - but only as long as its portable.

But how does that reconcile with the savagery of the barbed spear, the leather-clad tattooed creatures painted with blood exploding from the trees to rip into the enemy? Surely those are savage primitives?

The Navarri started as a resistance force to fight as much against the barbarian incursions as against the Vallorn. They were a small, weak force. So they could not face the enemy on open battlefields, but needed to strike quickly and get away, and in the process of doing so strike such terror into the hearts of the enemies that the enemy would be loath to travel that way again.

They needed to fight as much with fear as with weapons.

So they began to cultivate their image, an image which the Imperial nations often believe as much as the barbarians do. It came originally from the oaths they took and the brands which were a part of that, but was built up into a picture of savage, brutal primitives who are a part of the wild and who use the wild to their advantage. Think of the moment in Brotherhood of the Wolf where the white French aristocrat puts on the Native American makeup and attitude - how much more terrifying does he suddenly become?

What's more effective at stopping barbarians going through a territory - a contingent of orcs being met at the edge of a forest by a force of skirmishers and destroyed, or a contingent of orcs marching into that forest - carefully marked with bones hung from trees - and never coming out again?

The image of the Navarr as these demons-of-the-wild is critical to their effectiveness in battle against the barbarians. So they maintain it carefully, knowing a well-placed skull on a spike is far more effective than a sign saying 'no trespassing'.

Some Navarr adopt this look a lot more strongly than others. These are the 'isolated' Navarr from the costume brief, which essentially means they spend more time out in the wilds potentially facing barbarians. It's a way of life for them to look as terrifying as possible. The so-called 'integrated' Navarr are those who spend more time around the other nations, and less time on the frontier, so need to dress like that less. But there's no clear-cut divide - it's a spectrum.

And, in most cases, all Navarr will dress up and paint themselves up for war: 'putting a game face on,' if you like.

Additional Notes (from Damian)
The Navarr aren't apologists and find sloughing blame unpalatable. When judgement comes, look it in the eyes and go down smiling. This is how you write your life large on the Great Dance.

"Actions have consequences", "You cannot betray your enemies". Imagine these as the leading man/woman of the movie epic 'Navarr Are a Metric Mega F'ton of Awesome. Part 1' and everything else we add are the extras.

Oh and 'enemy' is not just the one poking you with a sharp stick.