While the basic technology of the game is aimed at a magical-medieval tone, there are a few things that go beyond the historical equivalents in the setting. This page lays out some of the important elements of common technology in the Empire that distinguish the setting from historical Europe. Most of these additions are designed to provide in-character explanations for real world technology - to make the setting fit the game better.
It is important to note that Empire is not a game of technological exploration - technological advancement and invention are not themes of the game. This means that you cannot invent binoculars by putting two spyglasses together - this is against the spirit of the game and would fail if you tried it. Substances like gunpowder are not part of our setting and cannot be researched or discovered.
Lightstone is an uncommon crystalline mineral mined primarily in the peaks of Urizen, although there are also small deposits in the mountains of Kahraman, Wintermark, and Varushka. In its natural state, it is translucent and may be mistaken for a form of tempest jade. When properly cut and polished, however, the unique property of the lightstone is revealed; the stone glows, producing light without heat.
The size, shape, and quality of the stone affect the amount of light given off. The Urizen have discovered that the best shape for worked lightstone is a sphere - dramatically increasing the amount of light given off. In almost all cases, they have noted an inverse relationship between the size of the stone and the amount of light given off - smaller stones tend to produce more light than larger stones. There are exceptions, of course - but any lightstone larger than a few inches across that provides significant light is rare enough to be practically unique.
The Urizen are masters of working with and using lightstone. For example, they pioneered a process whereby lightstone can be treated with a carefully prepared solution of beggar's lye, iridescent gloaming, and ambergelt that causes the light of the stone to become tinted - most commonly blue, green, or red. Likewise, they are adept at combining lightstone with polished mirrors to focus or direct the light the stone provides. Urizen lanterns are very much in demand by miners (they are much safer to use underground than naked flames) and by sailors (no amount of water extinguishes a lightstone). Properly cared for, they can provide light for decades or (in rare cases) centuries without dimming.
Lightstones in play
Lightstones are a justification to use modern lighting in the field. Modern LED lights, in particular, are particularly useful in LRP, and while a modern torch isn't appropriate in the setting, you can buy cool looking LED lanterns or make your own. The ideal physrep for a lightstone will have something to diffuse the light, to further hide its modern character.
In the Empire, the first printing presses were designed and built in Tassato Regario and the first presses were employed here printing religious tracts, scholarly treatises and political manifestos. Today, the device is known throughout the Empire and beyond (it is popular in the Commonwealth, while other foreign nations largely view it as an amusing novelty). Many presses, especially the smaller ones, still use the original woodcut block screw-press, but in the last thirty years or so a handful of printers (mostly in the League) have begun to explore the miracle of movable type.
The art of printing is still closely associated with the League in many minds. Easily three-fifths of all printing in the Empire takes place in Tassato, where rival printing houses compete for customers and work to explore new innovations such as colour, and the recreation of line drawings (although as to the latter several houses are now experimenting with acid etching and similar techniques to reproduce images - the innovative spirit of the League in action). Printing houses allow for a volume of trade that helps to keep the actual costs involved relatively low - it is reasonably common for visitors to Anvil to encounter printed pamphlets, fliers, posters, and the like. By comparison, printed books are uncommon - and even then they tend to be on the short side.
Printing presses in play
The printing press exists to allow players to use word processors and printers rather than doing everything by hand. Producing a pile of pamphlets, fliers, or posters is something anyone can do; there are also player groups who roleplay that they run printing houses, and are usually happy to let a player add their "stamp of approval" to any printing they might do. Printed books, on the other hand, are not common - they exist but they tend to be slim volumes rather than thick novels, and tend to have a limited print run. This reflects the fact that it is much easier for players and plot-writers to produce a short pamphlet than an entire book.
Literacy and Numeracy
Since the time of Emperor Giovanni, the Empire has prided itself in ensuring that citizens are competent in reading, writing, and numeracy. While not everyone is literate to the same degree, someone who cannot read or write Imperial would be viewed as unusual by most people. This is not the standard for the entire world - while the Commonwealth matches the Empire in its commitment to basic education, other nations are a lot more haphazard in their approach. In many parts of the world, the ability to read and write is rare outside the privileged classes.
In terms of mathematics, the Empire is quite advanced compared to the medieval world. Algebra and geometry are well understood, and some scholars (especially in Urizen) explore the world of numbers with a similar fervour to that with which wizards study the realm of magic.
Literacy and numeracy in play
Every character in Empire is assumed to be able to read and write Imperial and to be numerate.
Bitterweed and Contraception
Bitterweed grows throughout the Empire and beyond, a hardy herb that seems to flourish equally well in most climates. Visually similar to fennel, it has distinct orange-red flowers and stout, succulent stems. The flowers themselves have no particular properties, but the juicy stems are extremely valuable. Bitter to the taste, they render anyone who consumes them temporarily infertile - and are equally effective on humans, orcs, and animals such as sheep and cows.
Chewed raw, a bitterweed stalk will render anyone regardless of anatomy infertile for about a week. Properly prepared and steeped in hot water, it produces an exceptionally bitter tea that can induce infertility for a season. Some apothecaries know the trick of brewing it with bladeroot to create a potent infusion that can induce infertility on a permanent basis - at least until an antidote brewed of Imperial roseweald and marrowort is administered. The effects of bitterweed can be washed away completely by relatively straightforward ritual magic as well - Fan the Flame of New Life for example will burn away infertility caused by using bitterweed.
While many users choose to add honey or sugar to their bitterweed tea to make it more palatable, it is effectively impossible to administer the herb to anyone without their knowledge. The unique bitter, slightly nutty taste is instantly identifiable to any adult and they can easily spit it out before swallowing it.
Bitterweed and contraception in play
In Empire, it is uncommon for someone to become pregnant or to sire a child without intending to, due to the wide availability of cheap and effective methods of herbal contraception. As a result, no player-character is ever considered to be fertile unless they want to be - the assumption is that anyone who wishes to opt out has simply been using bitterweed to ensure they are not fertile. This means that no player can be involved in baby-related plot without their explicit permission
The herb itself is based fairly obviously on stories of silphium - and is included mostly as an example of several similar herbs. Other forms of medieval contraception are also in use in the Empire world.
Spectacles, Spyglasses, and Lenses
Spectacles are known throughout the Empire. The best spectacles come from Urizen, but the most commonly used are produced in the League. They are a widespread, comparatively inexpensive, method of aiding poor sight. Their origins are lost in antiquity; they are known worldwide and the common belief is that they were invented in the Asavean Archipelago centuries ago.
The spyglass, by contrast, is more easily nailed down; it was invented in the Sarcophan Delves. Urizen and Freeborn ship captains first brought the spyglass to Imperial shores, and helped popularise it, and in conjunction with the League natural philosophers made several advances on the original design. Spyglasses are expensive, and fragile, but almost anyone who can afford a ship can afford to equip themselves with one. They are also occasionally used on battlefields, or by scouts exploring enemy positions. There are also a very few rare examples built in the mountains of Urizen that are used in the exploration of astronomancy (although even an Urizen astronomancer is just as likely to make use of an enchanted weltsilver bowl to study the heavens as an expensive system of lenses and prisms). They are largely seen as a practical device used by practical people rather than a tool for natural philosophers.
Magnifying glasses are also known, but they are even rarer than spyglasses due to their relative fragility. They are commonly used by scholars and natural philosophers, although anyone who performs fine work (jewellers and locksmiths for example) may make use of one. Some lens makers have experimented with making magnifying glasses out of tempest jade - properly shaped, a thin sheet of that volatile material tends to be more durable than even the finest glass.
Spectacles, spyglasses, and lenses in play
Anyone can wear glasses or spectacles. Aspirationally, something that looks a little archaic is ideal but modern glasses are a suitable physrep for Empire spectacles. There are even a few pairs made with smoked glass or tempest jade, designed to protect sensitive eyes from bright light. Likewise, anyone can own a spyglass or magnifying glass - although such items are not common in the general population, people who attend Anvil are assumed to be rich or influential enough to bring what they please with them.
Contact lenses do not exist - but there is a simple herbal treatment (involving eye drops) that can provide a short-lived improvement in vision that may be used to explain how someone who wears glasses is able to operate without them for short periods of time if they are OOC using contact lenses.
There are no microscopes or binoculars in Empire - such things do not exist in the setting and should not be used.
Clocks, Clockwork, and Time
The Grand Clocktower in Holberg - a mechanical time-keeping device on a massive scale and a unique wonder in the Empire - was built by the founders of the famous Wunderkind guild. Significantly less impressive clocktowers are found in all the League cities, and in places such as Meade and the White City of Bastion. As understanding of clockwork has slowly advanced, smaller and smaller clocks have begun to appear. When most people think of a clock they imagine the grand mechanical devices overlooking busy squares; wealthy individuals can also afford a personal clock that they keep in their own homes. Indeed, within the last few years even smaller clocks - clocks that can be kept in a pouch or pocket - have become fashionable (although they remain quite expensive). These "pocket clocks" are especially prevalent at Anvil, where the richest and most influential people gather.
During summits, clocks are used to help regiment the day. Meetings are organised using an agreed on sequence of hours based on the Grand Clocktower in Holberg. An hour is sixty minutes, and for most people progresses in "half hour" increments - anything smaller is generally unnecessary. Only the Imperial Conclave really worries about partitions of time smaller than half an hour. Indeed, most people tell the time by looking at the sky, and judging whether it is morning, afternoon, evening, or night.
Clocks are not the only method of measuring the passage of time, and they are not cheap. Sundials, candle clocks, sand clocks, and water clocks (especially Greco-Roman versions) are all common devices used throughout the Empire to measure the passage of time.
Clockwork has also found other applications; clockwork music boxes and mechanical toys are popular, if expensive, diversions for the wealthy. They tend to be unique items, patiently created by skilled crafters, and are by no means common. They often incorporate gears and springs made from alloys of orichalcum, weltsilver, green iron, and mithril.
Clockwork in Play
Clockwork is mostly employed for making clocks and one-of-a-kind, luxurious toys. Ideally, clocks should be bulky and try to capture the aesthetic of the appropriate nation - for example a Wintermark clock may bear runes, an Urizen clock might include mirrors or lights, and a Varushkan clock may be kept carefully in a locked wooden box. Pocket clocks (pocket watches) likewise should ideally look more archaic than the traditional Victorian or Edwardian model. Wristwatches as not appropriate for in-character use at Empire.
Appropriate toys include music boxes, and the occasional wind up model that moves or performs a simple action. In the Empire setting, clockwork is utterly incapable of providing motive power to large moving objects, nor can it be used to make complex machinery; this remains a medieval fantasy setting so elements of steampunk or brasspunk are not permitted.
Runeboxes and Runebound Chains
Artisans make a variety of mundane items to protect the valuables of their clients, but two extremely popular items are runeboxes and runebound chains. Developed recently in Wintermark, their construction uses a combination of expensive materials (either weirwood or mithril alloys), and runes such as Diras and Verys. When complete, these items are practically indestructible. While It is possible to destroy such a box or a chain, it requires several hours smashing the item to pieces making a tremendous noise and utterly destroying any contents in the process. While such boxes and chains are expensive, and not common, anyone who attends Anvil is assumed to be able to afford to purchase or create them to secure their own valuables.
Runeboxes and runebound chains in play
As explained in our rules for in-character theft, if a player's tent includes a wooden or metal box or a metal chain then you should assume that they are virtually indestructible. This means that any solid box which is locked cannot be opened in game without the key or a mundane way to pick the lock. If the box is chained to the tent then it cannot be removed.
Players who keep boxes in their IC areas are encouraged to use good looking props where possible. If you want to mark the box with runes for Verys and Diras - you can do so. In particular, you should use an appropriate in-character lock which uses a key (combination locks are not appropriate in the setting). The key is obviously a vital in-character physrep and should be treated accordingly. It should be kept with other in-character belongings and can be stolen and used as normal. If it is a modern key then please consider what cosmetic changes you can make to it, to make it look more obviously like a game prop.
You cannot have an IC box that can be easily opened and claim it is a locked box. The physrep must actually be locked and physically secured. You are allowed to store important in-character and out-of-character valuables together in the box, but bear in mind that it is still theoretically possible that someone might steal the box if it is not chained down. If they do so - they must bring the physrep to GOD within half an hour as per our normal rules for stolen items.
Flashpowder and Fireworks
Flashpowder, and similar theatrical substances, are used across the Empire in stage-shows, especially in the League and Brass Coast. It is often used to great effect in rituals - and not just those employing dramaturgy. It is not cheap, but neither is it a great expense - most professional stage magicians, actors, or ritualists can lay their hands on a quantity.
Fireworks also exist - from sparklers to rockets that create short-lived, glowing flowers in the night sky. The best fireworks in the Empire are made in the Brass Coast, and employ a fine dust made from ground tempest jade. Fireworks come in a variety of forms and colours, but they are expensive - they are a luxury item used on special occasions. Fireworks are useless as weapons - experiments have proved that the material in fireworks provides a lot of sound and light, but almost no force and relatively little heat.
Flashpowder and fireworks in play
Fireworks exist, but gunpowder does not. There are no rockets or guns in the Empire world.
There are strict rules governing pyrotechnics at events, as detailed in our rules for banned items.
Trods, Roads, and Ox-carts
The Empire world lacks horses, but traders and travellers alike make use of oxen to pull wagons and carts. Riding is largely a forgotten, semi-mythical art. Outside of creatures of the Realms, people don't really entertain the idea of riding animals. In particular, mounted cavalry is unknown in the modern Empire world (and even in the past were mostly unknown outside of the Empire). Some nations such as the barbarian orcs and the Jarmish princes make use of elephants, dire rhinos, and similar large creatures as mobile siege engines, but such things are rare, and large creatures expensive to raise, train, and maintain.
The Empire is covered by a network of roads, haphazardly built up over centuries to connect population centres. Their quality varies extensively from the carefully laid and hearth magic enhanced highways of Varushka to the partially paved roads of the Marches. A great work begun in Spring 380YE called the Blood Red Roads seeks to link all four League cities with major highways - although they are not due to be completed until 382YE at the earliest.
When people travel from one part of the Empire to another, they are just as likely to make use of the trods for part or all of their journey. These magical routes are a side effect of the Dance of Navarr and Thorn, a potent Spring ritual used by the Navarr to weaken the Vallorn. These routes are useful because the energy that thrums through them provides strength that allows them to be walked continuously for many hours without a break, and quickly revitalize resting travellers. Their drawback is that they are even more haphazard than the roads, and their layout cannot be dictated. Trods meander and twist, irrespective of the location of towns or villages, and a traveller must weigh the advantages of moving quickly against the difficulty of finding a trod that goes where they want to go. It is more common for someone undertaking a journey to take advantage of trods that are moving them in the right direction and then break off and use a mundane road the rest of the time.
Even if they did go in straight lines, due to their magical nature it is very difficult to build roads along trods - the energies infuse local vegetation that quickly reclaims any attempt to create a flat road using crushed stone or rock. Fortunately the magic usually means this is not neccessary, the magic of the trods ensures they rarely become impassable with mud except in the most treacherous of conditions. Instead, where a trod sees heavy traffic by wagons, the focus is on keeping the way clear, removing any trees that begin to sprout and cutting back the undergrowth.
On the large Empire maps, major trods are usually depicted as a low of footsteps. Where a road runs along a trod, it represents a wide cleared route suitable for ox carts rather than anything a Varushkan for example would recognise as "a road". The Navarr (and now the Grey Pilgrims) often devote part of their day walking a trod to ensuring it is free from vegetation that might impede travellers.
Trods and transport in play
We assume that anyone attending Anvil can do so regardless of where they live in the Empire - that it takes no more than perhaps a fortnight of travel to get there and back again. How precisely this happens is below the abstraction layer, but the trods provide one potential explanation. The trods are of great importance to the Navarr nation, and are covered in more detail here.
Groveblossom and Changing Gender
Some people in the Empire do not call themselves male or female - a historical example is Tekupala, who is recorded in various sources as a man or a woman or as neither. Others, like the Little Mother, choose to change the gender they express themselves as during their lifetime, and often the fact of this change is not much remarked upon in history compared to such important facts as the glory of their deeds or the virtue they demonstrated. When celebrating a new child, a family often chooses to assign a gender to the newborn; but this is never at the expense of the child’s right to express themselves as they wish throughout their life.
Some individuals who choose to change their gender expression also decide they wish to pursue physical changes. The herb groveblossom is often used to aid in this. Native to the groves of Kallavesa, it can now be found across the Empire. It is easy to prepare properly, in a variety of ways, and so it is never hard for those who want to benefit from it to do so.
Depending on how it is prepared, groveblossom can cause an increase in conventionally male attributes like hair growth across the body, a deepening of the voice and a sharpening of facial appearance, or an increase in conventionally female attributes such as breast growth, softer skin and a reduction in body hair. The herb is taken regularly over a period of time, and changes occur gradually - the exact effects of groveblossom are unpredictable in pace and scale, and are very dependent on the particular physiology of the person taking it. When they do occur, the changes caused by groveblossom are long-lasting and difficult to reverse.
Groveblossom in play
Empire by intent is a setting which excludes any form of gender discrimination. Characters in the world of Empire do not make assumptions nor treat differently other characters based on their gender expression. Groveblossom is intended to help give some IC context for the hormone therapy that, in the real world, many (although by no means all) trans people undergo as part of their transition. The effects of them are unpredictable because in the real world, hormone therapy can be hard to access and have quite different results from person-to-person.
It is easy for characters in Empire to access groveblossom treatment with these herbs, and it is assumed that any character who wants to can do so. However, they are included in our game as a way for trans people who wish to play characters who are also trans to do so: we would ask players who are not themselves trans to be sensitive to the experiences of others and think carefully about playing a character who expresses gender variance. In addition, there is no requirement for a trans player to play a character who is trans; for this reason, please do not comment on other character’s use of these herbs unprompted, especially if you have some assumption about the player of that character.
Many trans people in real life also undergo one or more forms of gender confirmation surgery. Such surgeries are also available within the world of Empire, but are outside the scope of what should occur in uptime; in the game world as in real life, they are a personal, private matter.