Senate design Revision as of 11:22, 23 June 2016 by JonC (typo fixed)
- 1 Overview
- 2 Purpose
- 3 Player Limitations
- 4 Game Limitations
- 5 Changes in this Update
- 6 Further Reading
The Imperial Senate is the most powerful political house in the Empire, with the ability to change the balance of power between the five political houses, appoint generals, control the Imperial budget, amend Imperial law, authorize great works and create new Imperial titles.
However, there are significant limits on the power of the Senate, which the Senate is not able to circumvent. This page aims to explain why those limits exist.
The core reason to limit the power of the Senate is to get the right play balance. The Senate is far-and-away the most powerful of the five political houses - but we've designed it so that those powers are not supreme. Even an Empress would not rule with the divine right of kings in Empire. If you want someone fired - your first port of call is the Synod - not the Senate. If it involves magic - it's likely that the Conclave can influence the issue far better than the Senate. The Bourse serves as a firewall between the Senate and the game economy, the Military Council has dominion over the strategic elements of the campaign. The ideal design is one in which the powers of the five houses complement and oppose each other, you can't ignore the other houses if you have a seat in one of them.
There are some less obvious reasons - like protecting individual players and groups of players to allow them to continue playing the game even if badly defeated politically. If nine nations unite against the tenth in Empire - they could do massive damage to the political interests of that nation - but they can't just throw them out of the game. The goal is for the constitution to act as a safety net - to allow for wide-ranging political PvP - but prevent the political equivalent of a coup de grace that ends the game.
Ultimately though the reason to limit the power of the game is to make it fun for as many players as possible. The "constitution" serves as a mechanism to prevent the Senate weakening the political game through the entirely justifiable IC action of extending their own powers. If the Senate's power was supreme, the game for all the players in these other houses would be diminished as the political game became far less complex, less nuanced and involve less players. The constitution works to try and preserve game for everyone playing Empire - and in that way make the game more involved and challenging for everyone.
These limitations are extensions of the setting that involve other players, rather than limitations that are initiated by Profound Decisions.
Losing My Religion
The most obvious limitation of the Senate is the oversight of the Imperial Synod. There is quite deliberately a delicate balancing act to get the relative power of these two political houses right. Ultimately the game design gives the Senate all the active powers to change things and do things - but the Synod is the body with all the powers to undo these. They can revoke people to remove them from office and they can veto motions passed by the Senate.
The veto is deliberately staggered so that the veto the Synod can deploy easily - the veto of the Assembly of Nine cannot be used against the majority of the Senate motions. For these the Synod needs to muster over fifty percent of all the priests at the event, a herculean task - and one that requires a significant number of players to be highly motivated.
The veto does not exist to preserve the game design - it is there to enable politics between the Senate and the Synod. For political interaction to take place between these two houses, a dynamic of power needs to exist between them. The Synod veto gives the Synod a hold over the Senate, it is a political weapon they can wield to gain interests, for whatever purpose the Synod choose. The veto is also a tool any player in the game can conceptually wield - you don't have to be a member of the Synod to try to get the Synod to act, that is something anyone can attempt.
The distinction between constitutional votes and majority votes exists to allow for a changed balance of power between the Synod and the Senate in the different circumstances. The goal is to empower the Synod to play a significant role in the political game - to give them tools to fight their political battles according to their goals and ambitions.
Without the veto, or some equivalent, the Synod would be toothless and the Senate would be able to ignore them. Of course that would suit the best in-character interests of the senators, but it would make their game significantly less challenging. There would still be politics within the Senate of course, between rival senators and nations, but the political game would be reduced to one in which the senators were the only actors - a less complex, less challenging, less involving game for them as well as everybody else.
The Senate has some power over the Imperial Military Council - because they appoint the generals - but they cannot replace them and they are legally forbidden to enter the Military Council chamber. This limitation is pretty unique in Empire - most of the game is about giving people powers to do things, not stopping them doing something that would normally be trivial.
The limitation exists to try and ensure that each general is able - as far as possible - to play the military game independently of the senators who chose them. The Military Council is very focussed on the war with the barbarians, it has almost no political autonomy outside of that. The war is very important to the whole Empire - and understandably many senators are going to want to involve themselves in that conflict.
The point of trying to keep them out is that the senators already have a political game taking place in the senate - people who want to play the Military game should be striving to become generals or adjutants in the Military Council. The military game takes place primarily within the Military council - the game is designed to ensure that the senators can't directly move the military game into the Senate - either consciously or sub-consciously.
We don't have an opinion on whether trickle-down economics work in real life, but we are firmly of the opinion that they do not work well in LRP games. The wealth rarely trickles down far enough to create a vibrant game of trade and commerce. Trickle down economics are particularly vulnerable in a setting where the IC leaders are PCs - NPCs can be told to hand out their wealth equally - PCs natural and appropriate response is to hoard it.
In Empire the primary source of wealth is the contents of each player's pack. The Senate has vastly more money to spend than any individual player - but significantly less wealth to spend than all the players combined. It is the biggest fish in the economic pond by a long way - but it is tiny compared with the sea of smaller fish that surround it.
Much of the economic game centres around the key Imperial Bourse resources that everyone is trying to gain. The sale of these resources lies in the hands of the Bourse - the founders of the Empire deliberately tied the hands of the Senate to stop them having control over the most valuable resources of the state. Instead the Senate are forced to compete to buy their resources on the same footing as everyone else. They have more money - but they don't have any powers they can use to circumvent the need to engage in trade to get what they want.
The goal is to make certain that the Senate can't use its powers to close down the trading game. They can play the trading game - along with all the other players - but they have to trade - they can't take what they want by fiat. Their only weapon in that game is their wealth - anyone who can afford to outbid them can defeat them.
This kind of trickle-up economics, placing the power in the hands of every individual player and allowing them to pool their resources to achieve common goals is the fundamental basis of the economic game design. It gives players goals and empowers them to take action. Ultimately the reason the Bourse exists is to prevent the Senate from influencing the trading game by means other than playing the trading game. The goal is to preserve the breadth and depth of that trading game for every player who wants to participate.
These are limitations that are controlled by Profound Decisions, they exist to try and preserve the integrity of the game - they are not meant to be exercised as part of the political game itself.
There is only one kind of game limitation - the Constitutional Court can declare a motion "unconstitutional". Ideally this would happen before a motion is passed and when it does we will try to provide positive feedback about what would need to be changed to make the motion valid.
The list below presents all the reasons we can think of that we might declare a motion to be unconstitutional. The list appears long, but most of these things are never likely to come up in play - and by telling players what they are, we hope that players will find it easier to avoid them. We're trying to clearly delineate the boundaries of the game, so players don't find themselves unwittingly stumbling into them.
In normal circumstances Profound Decisions do not operate a policy of putting IC blocks in front of players who attempt IC actions we cannot OOC support. For instance - if players were attempting an advance on a battlefield that would be unsafe OOC - then we would provide OOC instruction to the players on how to avoid the area.
While some players appreciate having an IC explanation for OOC rulings, the risk with any IC explanation is that it is confused with plot. In theory the risk is that players go and poke the IC explanation thinking it will be cool plot when in fact it is just a justification for an OOC safety decision. In practice that very rarely happens - a much more serious and much more common problem is the reverse. Players attempt an IC action - they meet significant IC opposition because what they are trying to do is difficult - and they give up because they "assume PD don't want them to do that".
In all other situations, except this one, if you meet significant IC opposition to your IC plans - it is because what you are trying to do is difficult. It is never because PD out-of-character don't want you to do that thing - on the contrary we are usually keen for you to attempt it, we just want to make it consistent and appropriately challenging. If PD have out-of-character reasons why we don't want you do something in the game - we will tell you that out-of-character and if humanly possible we will tell you why. OOC rules exist so players know what is safe and fair to do in game - IC challenges exist to be overcome.
The exception is the "constitutional ruling" of the Constitutional Court. These are only done for out-of-character reasons - and we will try to identify why we are doing them when we provide the rulings - but they are dressed up in IC language and presented IC because to do otherwise would be too damaging to the immersion of the game. None-the-less we want to be utterly upfront that these are out-of-characters decisions, take for reasons of game design, they are not political challenges to be overcome in-character.
Lots of Games
The main reason that some motions would be declared unconstitutional is because they disrupt the fundamental balance of power between the political houses of the Empire. There is room for change in these positions, the Senate can empower the other houses by giving them powers and creating titles appointed by them. But they have almost no ability to reduce the powers of these bodies - they can't centralize the power with themselves.
This is simply the out-of-character line that underpins the game design elements described above for the Synod, Bourse and the Military Council. The Imperial Conclave is slightly different, but in theory it's game is also protected by PD - the Senate can't simply grab these games and take them for themselves.
One of the reasons we might prevent a motion from proceeding is because we think that in the long term it will serve to make the overall game play less interesting. There is obviously a significant element of judgement in this but the judgement is geared towards preventing decisions that simplify the complex political structures of the Empire. A lot of the political game is about manoeuvring through the different political bodies of the Empire.
The natural instinct of most people in those situations is to remove these blocks. But once a block can be removed sufficiently easily - then the complexity of the political moves that can be made is reduced - and by extension the complexity of the political game is reduced. If you consider a game of chess - it is not improved if every piece can move to anywhere it wants. A labyrinth is only a challenge if you aren't allowed to bring a bulldozer.
We want the political game to remain challenging for decades to come, so motions that work to make the game simpler and easier to play - less complex and subtle and involved - by dismantling offices and structures of the state will be prevented. One of the core reasons that an Imperial title is created by the Senate but will usually have to be appointed by a different house is precisely to ensure that the integrity of the maze remains intact.
The Dark Shadow
There is often a desire to make things "fairer" - to give every player a chance to speak, a chance to vote. Every player who attends Empire should have a game to play - but the dark shadow of fair play is a threat to an enjoyable game. Sharing everything out - giving everyone one of everything makes the game less interesting, less involving, less challenging. A trading game is castrated when everyone has one of everything - a degree of inequality is a healthy element of an exciting game - and gives characters a basis for striving to advance their own political and personal goals.
Fair play can be particularly injurious to the flavour of a game. It's clearly, categorically, blatantly unfair that Urizen citizens don't get a vote unless they are a ritual magician. This is quite deliberate - the game that flows from this basic inequality serves to underpin the character and flavour of Urizen as a nation while simultaneously creating game for Urizen characters as they try to achieve their aims in light of this. Changes to the game that are driven by fair play that serve to reduce the impact of the character of the setting will be prevented.
No Going Back
Vacillation can be enjoyable in the moment - and political confrontations that turn and turn again in the moment of a few hours are the dramatic battles of a political game. But our assessment is that it would not be fun to be constantly reassessing every major decision the Senate had made. If a vote to assign territories and regions could be altered later - it makes compromise much easier (compromise IC is a design bug, not a feature) and encourages repetition.
As a result key game decisions are "locked in" once made - constitutionally forbidding the characters from changing their minds later.
The Weakest Link
Empire is intended to be a very political player-vs-player game. There are lots of different political fault lines, and there are great prizes to be claimed by the winners in the game. But you can't vote one of the contestants off so that they don't have to compete in future rounds. The Senate, the Synod, the Conclave, the Bourse and the Military Council can all do horrible, horrible things to characters, groups and nations they don't like. But they can't easily kill a character and they can't just expel a nation from the Empire, because they got a 2/3 majority in the Senate for a single vote.
Senate motions that disband or expel a nation or simply emasculate them in a single stroke (for instance a vote to make it illegal for Marchers to vote) will not pass constitutional scrutiny.
Like most LRPers of a certain age, we're big fans of Monty Python - but not in our LRP games. Empire is intended to be a serious game of politics, faith, trade, war and magic. We take the game seriously and we believe that the efforts out players make indicates that they share our preference for that approach. Motions that are clearly meant to be comic - will not pass constitutional scrutiny especially if it's funny. The Senate can change the laws of the Empire, they cannot make everyone wear a comedy hat.
There is the entirely theoretical risk that senators might attempt to pass motions that would violate Profound Decisions out-of-character rules for things like equality and diversity. We don't expect this will ever happen, but it is only appropriate to give notice that any attempt to do so would be declared unconstitutional.
Changes in this Update
This update is primarily intended to improve the presentation of this section of the wiki adding further useful information and making it easier for players to find and access the content they want. We have changed a small number of things in this update, most notable of which are edits to the powers of The Throne and the removal of procedural motions.
The procedural motions have been removed to enhance player agency, putting the emphasis firmly on the players to raise these motions at the point where they want them raised. It streamlines the Senate process, further reduces the direct impact of the NPCs and gives a player the chance to present what are often very significant or momentous motions.
The page listing the powers of The Throne conflicted with other pages on the wiki, making it unclear if The Throne possessed the right to vote or raise motions in the Senate. This has been clarified in the negative. We have added some additional powers in the Synod, to try to ensure that the position's influence in the Synod is adequately reflected and in line with their influence elsewhere.
The official explanation for this changes is now familiar "Time of Emergency". That the powers of the Throne and processes of state work slightly different during a time of emergency and then revert back to the standard procedures once everything has settled down.
The time of emergency was what happened in the first few years following the death of Empress Britta and most of the Empire's finest who died with her. This was why every senator at the first event was having to be elected and so on - it was the rules following a time of emergency when basically everyone who was running the Empire is dead. The explanation is that the Civil Servants have one set of rules to use when running the Empire in the period immediately following the declaration of emergency - and then they revert to the standard rules (the ones now on the wiki).
Obviously this is a figleaf justification, we are not attempting to claim that this is a seamless elegant solution, but hopefully it will help to minimize the impact of the changes for individual players - allowing them to roleplay that what happened has happened. It isn't particularly helpful to postulate that individual civil servants are somehow engaged in some kind of conspiracy to control the Empire; this isn't some kind of actual plot you can interact with - it's a justification by PD for the changes we are making to the game to make it better for everyone playing it.