This page is part of our introduction to Empire, explaining more about the game. It is intended for people who are new to live roleplaying as well as experienced live roleplayers who have never done Empire before to give you a broad-strokes look at the Empire world and some of the universal concepts that underpin the setting.
A closed world
Empire takes place in a closed world. This means that it has its own setting, laid out on the wiki. Players take roles within that world, and don't have the ability to introduce significant new elements. Players can't create0 new nations, new lineages, or eternals for example. This allows everyone to have a shared understanding and expectation of what the world contains, supporting immersion, and making the game world feel more real to everyone involved.
This also means that while you have a lot of freedom to determine who your character is, you can't play anything at all. There's no room for playing Robin Hood or a character from another setting, you can't create a new territory to be from, you can't make up a history that is at odds with the established events of the game world. Expand on what this means and why we don't let you make stuff up
Not A Medieval World
The Empire setting is a fantasy world, and not a historical setting. Although some of the costume is inspired by medieval clothing, the parallels end there. For example, feudalism is largely unknown in the setting. The Empire has no kings or queens, or serfs and nobody is born to a life predestined for power or for poverty.
The Empire world may look medieval on the surface, but this inspiration is more about the look-and-feel than the attitudes of the people. Real world prejudices, especially prejudice based around sex, gender, or real-world ethnicity are simply unknown. It's not an element we're interested in including in the game. Prejudice still exists, but it is focused on in-game elements such as lineage, nationality, or in-game religion.
At the same time there are numerous technologies known in the Empire setting that would be anachronistic in a traditional medieval world. Some of these technologies such as light stones are magical in nature while others such as the printing press are mundane in nature. The people of this world, especially in the Empire, are also more educated than their equivalents in either real-world history or in most similar fantasy settings. The assumption is that everyone can read and write, for example, and disciplines such as medicine, mathematics, social studies, and natural philosophy are quite advanced compared to their more traditional counterparts.
There are ten nations in the Empire, and every player character is an Imperial citizen who belongs to one of them. Which nation your character belongs to is the single most important decision about you character. While you can play a character who started somewhere else, the focus of the game is on the Empire and the events that take place there. Your nationality is a core element of your character; at Anvil everyone camps together with other members of their nation for example, fights alongside their nation during battles, and even has rules implications such as determining which covens they can support if they are ritual magicians.
Each of the nations is developed on the Empire wiki, with a brief detailing their culture, their history, and their attitudes. Each nation has the same pieces of core reading that you should be familiar with for the nation you choose - the overview, culture and customs, the people, and the look and feel. Each nation has a number of other pages that detail things like the nations magical attitudes and history. These are optional reading, but having at least skimmed them will improve your enjoyment of the game.
Every Imperial nation has one or more egregores, members of crew who support the players of that nation in a variety of ways. In-game, the egregores also help to ensure each nation maintains it's own unique cultural identity.
The nations that make up the Empire are culturally distinct but politically and legally unified. It is run by five key "houses" of politics - the Imperial Senate, the Imperial Synod, the Imperial Military Council, the Imperial Conclave, and the Imperial Bourse. Each of these houses has distinct powers that allow player characters to shape Imperial policy and direct the Empire.
While there is a larger world beyond Imperial borders, the game focuses on events that take place within the Empire. This doesn't mean the Empire is the most important place in the world in-character, but it is the heart of the game out of character. The Empire calls any nation it is at war with "barbarians" while all other nations are considerd "foreigners". We don't detail these foreign nations and barbarian forces to the same degree as the Imperial nations, and events outside the Empire are important only so far as they effect Imperial citizens. These places exist to create interesting interactions among the players within the Empire.
You can read more about the Empire itself here.
Unlike many fantasy games, the Empire setting contains only a few sapient species. The most common species in the world are humans and orcs. The two species are very distinct - there are no half-orcs for example such as exist in some fantasy settings. The majority of Imperial citizens are humans, although the Imperial Orcs nation allows for orc player characters. There are a handful of other sapient species in the game but they are very rarely encountered by Imperial citizens, and not available as player characters.
Some humans are touched by the power of the magical realms and develop lineage. There are six lineages in the Empire setting - briar, cambion, changeling, draughir, merrow, and naga. Each has physical trappings that mark them out as different to unlineaged humans and their personalities are influenced by the magical realm they are associated with. Lineaged people are found throughout the world, and while they are still fundamentally human different nations have different attitudes to different lineages.
THIS BIT IS TOO LONG! Magic is a fact of life in the setting, and in theory anyone can learn to use it. Magic is not viewed as being especially mysterious or sinister - it follows broadly understood laws and while it can do a lot it can't do everything. Being a magician is often seen as a professional discipline, similar to being a doctor or a scientist in the real world. In most parts of the world, magicians are respected for mastering a challenging discipline.
There are two ways of directly wielding magical power - spellcasting and ritual magic. Spellcasting allows magicians to perform a small number of spells that can perform a handful of specific magical effects such as healing wounds or hurling an opponent away with amgical force. Ritual magic allows groups of magicians called covens to wield the magic of the realms to create powerful magical effects drawn from six magical lores. Ritual magic is potent but there are several limitations on what it can achieve - for example no amount of magic can raise the dead.
In addition to the direct use of magic, there are several other ways that magical force can impact the game. Magic items crafted by artisans allow even the most mundane individual to access limited magical abilities. The five magical herbs allow physicks to achieve remarkable healing effects, and let apothecaries brew valuable potions.
Finally, the world itself is steeped in magic that sometimes makes itself known in subtle, hard to replicate ways. Hearth magic is a kind of roleplaying magic that sometimes grants additional weight or significance to otherwise mundane activities. Hearth magic employs the innate natural magic of the world to produce subtle but significant effects in much the same way that a compass needle always points to magnetic north.
The Empire is part of the mortal or mundane world, but there are six magical realms - Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter, Day, and Night that lie alongside it. The realms are magical planes that are separated from but innately tied to the natural world. Magical power can be drawn from the realms, and while mortals can't visit them and survive there, they are inhabited by supernatural creatures called eternals who are fascinated by the material world.
Faith is a powerful motivation in the Empire setting, but it differs greatly from religions in many other roleplaying games. There are no gods for example, and no divine authority that will tell players how to act or answer their questions. As with other elements, the religions of the Empire world are specific to the setting. Almost all human religions recognise the idea that human souls reincarnate. Most of the known religions believe that after they die humans go to a spiritual realm for a time and then are reborn in the world. The exact details of these beliefs vary widely.
The Empire has a formal religion - the Way - that is based around the pursuit of the seven Virtues. This religion is know and followed by people all over the world, but it is only one of several competing religions. It's illegal for people to preach other faiths in the Empire. Player character priests are likely to wield secular power as members of the Imperial Synod, and there is a strong theme of religious conflict with the priests of foreign religions.
The powers wielded by priests are significantly more subtle than those commonly available to religious characters in other settings, focused around the creation of roleplaying effects and dealing with spiritual matters rather than providing healing or smiting opponents.
Not a medieval world
The broad strokes of the Empire setting are built around the aesthetics of the 12th and 13th century but that is not to say that the people who live there have the same attitudes as medevil people.