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 What We Know So Far - Empire LRP

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Camillius

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PostSubject: What We Know So Far - Empire LRP   Sat May 19, 2012 8:10 am

The following information is drawn from the material shown to the focus groups at the end of 2011 and provides a simple overview of the Empire setting. Much of the detailed material is still being created, so everything described here is potentially subject to change, but the core ideas are now well developed and significant changes are relatively unlikely. For that reason we are now publishing here, so that everyone who is interested can find out more about the game.

Introduction
The game is set in a powerful Empire that is surrounded by hostile barbarians on all sides. The Empire has grown in power and size for centuries but has experienced a decline in recent decades with territories along the borders being over-run by barbarians. Around a fifth of the territory the Empire controlled at its height has been lost to a series of incursions that an Empire focused on internal politics was ill equipped to repulse.

The Empress has recently been slain, leaving the collective player base as the most powerful individuals in the Empire. Their challenge is to restore the Empire to its former glory by regaining the lands that have been lost and to secure its future.

The Empire is divided into nine culturally distinct nations. The game setting will describe the geography, culture and dress of these nations. The Empire encourages a degree of rivalry and competition between nations, but forbids outright conflict. The players are all part of this Empire, competing with each other to be the most capable servants of the Empire in defeating their barbarian enemies.

Events represent meetings of the Imperial court. These are times when characters can take the bold actions that determine the future of the Empire - there will be votes in the Senate, opportunities to practice powerful magic and battles to be fought that will determine the outcome of the Empire's military campaigns.

Look and Feel
The inspiration will be drawn from the late-Byzantine period to the Renaissance era. We will actively prohibit costume from later periods, like frockcoats and tricorns. The Lord of the Rings movie, the Assassins’ Creed computer games, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game from Games Workshop, HBO Borgias, the Game of Thrones television series, the Starz Camelot series and even the BBC Merlin series have all thrown up images we are keen to develop. The Imperial setting is one of “high culture” so we are excluding costume for players like the Huns or the Mongols that has a barbaric feel to it.

The game is not a historical setting however, so the periods described will be the starting point for our costume and culture. We will look to develop them, to try to enhance the fantasy aspects of them, but we will also detail them, to ensure that each Nation has a distinctive look. The game will encourage players to wear the costume that fits the created setting and their part within it. We want to exceed the level of costume standards that Odyssey achieves, using a fantasy world inspired by costume, dress and armour from the relevant periods.

The Nations of the Empire
The Empire is divided into nine culturally distinct Nations. Nations are not politically independent, the Empire has a single set of laws, but they have a cultural identity that is identifiable and reflected in their dress, customs and attitude. Each Nation will have three or four senators.

Nations exist to provide the players with their primary source of identity - in the way that players in other fest systems are Malathians, Greeks or Lions. The game will be organized logistically along Nation lines, with camps laid out for each Nation. Nationality will have no rules impact on a character’s skills or abilities. We want to encourage players to choose these factors purely for their aesthetic and setting considerations.
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Camillius

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PostSubject: Re: What We Know So Far - Empire LRP   Thu Jul 19, 2012 7:35 pm

Nobility and Service

When we set out to create the setting for Empire, one of the most important aspects was to create a setting for an LRP game. This is more challenging than it might otherwise seem, because it means thinking about every element of the setting and asking the question "How does this work in an LRP game? Does it work? Does it create game?"

We decided early on that the setting for Empire was medieval fantasy. We wanted to create something different to our other games and as our ideas coalesced that was the setting that just felt right for the game. A medieval setting comes with a great many assumptions, which are often just copied directly into a game's setting. There are good reasons to do that, the less original a setting is, the easier it is to communicate it!

But there was one element of classic medieval societies that we felt was fundamentally wrong for this game - namely the idea of inherited social class. This is a concept that is laced with problems in LRP, particularly in large fest games, but these problems are usually ignored at the design stage - some imitation of a feudal society is used with the assumption that a historically accurate setting needs no further consideration.

Aristocracy, the idea that some elite caste of society are born into their role, creates the immediate problem in LRP of deciding who will get to play an aristocrat. Even worse, feudal societies tend to have some degree of hierarchy, requiring mechanisms to determine where in the social hierarchy each character sits. Of course you can allow each player a free choice over where they sit, but only one person can be sat at the top. Only one person can be Empress or Emperor at once. Often game organizers solve this problem by reserving these top positions for NPCs, but Empire is a player-led game. There is categorically no higher power above the PCs in the setting.

The heroes journey is an important part of story-telling and in narrative a story-writer has the freedom to bend feudalism to his will. The hero is the son of a king, but nobody knows, or she's the daughter of a serf, but she'll be raised to the status of nobility before her story is told. Since this only happens to the hero or heroine, the setting can bend to accommodate it. But in a LRP game involving thousands of characters, the setting consistency is shredded by the constant ennoblement of scores of characters as each one completes their own hero's journey.

Worse, the whole idea of social immobility is really not very appealing in a highly political game. The theoretical basis of feudalism is a repudiation of politics, that each individual is born into their place and should be content with their lot. Of course people didn't settle for that, but that was how it was supposed to work! That's not a concept that is very appealing in a game setting where we want players to create characters who are ambitious, where the identity of the Empress or Emperor and the Senators who rule the Empire is a significant part of the game itself. PCs can be generals, mighty wizards, run powerful monopolies or take high office in the Synod. All of these things are intended as objectives for players and as things for players to politic over - the absolute last thing we want is a setting that suggests that each person has a set place in society.

There is another subtle problem with inheritance in a game that will include children, playing characters that are children. Historically noble dynasties rose and fell over time-scales of decades or centuries. Battles were few and far between and lords ruled over their domains until they were succeeded by their heirs grown to adulthood. But LRP characters simply don't last that long, LRP time is compressed, generations become years, years become days. Fortunes rise and fall in an event, not a lifetime. And characters die like mayflies, long before their children have time to reach maturity.

An inherited social system would see noble position after noble position being inherited by children. I'm keen to see LRPers of all age taking an active part in Empire, but the idea of an Empire where after three years no head of any noble houses is taking the field - because they are all phys-repped by seven year olds - is not an appealing vision. These issues never arise in narrative, where people only die at dramatically appropriate moments to ease the path of the protagonists through the story. But a LRP setting requires constant fudging to get round these problems.

Magic can also be problematic. In Empire, mages can control powerful forces that help or harm the Empire, and they bargain with Eternals, turning dangerous foes into important allies. It can be difficult to link ideas of individuals wielding significant power derived from their arcane skills with a setting in which power is vested in an aristocratic class determined by birth.

If those are the problems with nobility, what about at the other end of the social spectrum? Low-status is the new black; as anyone who has ever tried playing a servant can tell you, it's always more fun than it seems. But despite this, any roleplaying game that includes nobility always faces an enormous phys-rep problem - where have all the servants gone? A historical noble might have expected to have a dozen servants - or scores even - but they're never anywhere to be seen at an event, because if phys-repping a castle is hard... it's trivial compared to phys-repping an entourage of servants.

Instead of ninety percent of characters being servants and ten percent being nobles, the numbers are reversed. Nobles are ten a penny, but servants are rare. Once again the consistency of the setting is undermined by the reality of the game. This is fortunate - playing a servant is amazing fun in LRP, but I doubt it would be the case if historically accurate ratios of servants to nobles were observed.

There are undoubtedly many good ways to solve these problems, but the one we have chosen for Empire is to abandon many of the assumptions about inherited social class and leadership that is part and parcel of the baggage of medieval feudalism. Our starting point is that players come to fest events in groups of friends and they pick one of their number to be their leader. So the recurring motif in the setting is that groups of characters come together to form groups -a Highborn Chapter, a Free Company from the League or a Marcher Household, but the default assumption in the setting is that the members chose to be in that group and that they chose their leader. So when the leader dies, the group chooses a new leader, rather than following rules of inheritance.

Social class itself is simply not a part of the Empire setting. We're not forbidding players from playing lords or ladies, counts and viscounts, but these titles basically mean nothing. Senators, generals, cardinals - these characters are chosen by other characters and the setting assumes that characters are backing characters for reasons of politics not on the basis of birth and titles the player made up for his character. Anyone can become Emperor or Empress - the entire concept of a dynastic line simply does not exist in the setting - because the position is not inherited. To become important in Empire you have to be chosen in play by your peers - its not something you can simply choose at character creation - like so many other aspects of this game it's ultimately down to hard skill of what you can achieve in play.

In practice this is simply what happens anyway in a LRP game, our goal was only to design a LRP setting that reflected this underlying truth. So for example, the members of a Thane's Hall in Wintermark choose to be members of that hall - IC and OOC - and the default assumption is that they choose their Thane. Working with other Wintermark players they will also choose their senators, anyone playing a Winterfolk character could be chosen.

It's worth pointing out that titles will still be important. Being a Thane in Wintermark is a big deal - it likely means that you have Steinr, Suaq and Kallevesi warriors who will back you politically and militarily. That's a powerful asset - it's important in the game - so being a Thane is a big deal, even if your character wasn't born a Thane and can be replaced by your warriors if they don't like him or her. There are also important Imperial titles that your character can gain, a Wintermark General has a say in where the battles take place, with whom you fight and how hard those fights are. Imperial titles come with responsibilities and powers - they matter. Players can create titles for their characters, but these are likely to be seen as unimportant compared to the titles that other characters have granted you in play.

There are elements of the setting that appear to violate these ideas. The most glaring one is Dawn, the nation in which nobility is the highest ideal, a nation of gleaming knights and powerful earls. But the violation is superficial, nobility in Dawn is about nobility of spirit - not an accident of birth. Their knights are proven warriors who have claimed their rank not been born to it. The earl of a noble house is chosen by its members, they give him or her their loyalty, not their fealty.

Servants receive a similar design overhaul. The Empire is a society that cannot survive without heroes to defend it, a concept that underpins much of the setting. This is the exact opposite of the narrative story in which the protagonist is the unlikely hero from the quiet backwater village. Imperial society encourages every individual to believe in themselves as a hero from the outset; as someone whose actions are essential to the survival of the Empire. Not everyone will fight, but everyone can contribute - and while the PCs may be the greatest of the Empire's heroes - the assumption is still that every man and woman, even the NPCs are important.

Just as no-one is born to high status, so nobody is born to low status in the Empire. The inhabitants of the Empire have chosen to be where they are. Some of those folk, the NPCs, may not seem to have the most glamorous or exciting roles, but they chose their place and the assumption is that they could change it if they wished to. Military service is the norm, those who enjoy it stay on as professional soldiers, those who do not leave to become innkeepers, farmers or blacksmiths. Just as the PCs chose what characters to play, the characters who occupy the world, the PCs and the NPCs, chose the paths they wanted to follow.

In the real world, people become servants because they are forced to, either financially or by the social rules of their society. None of that happens in Empire, everyone is their "own man" - and just as most PCs are ambitious enough to want to pursue their own goals, so are most NPCs, even if their abilities are less. Hence servants are assumed to be rare in Empire, incredibly rare in fact because the only servants that exist are the people who voluntarily chose to become servants.

Why would someone choose to be a servant? In Empire one answer is patriotism - people care about the Empire, it defends them against the Barbarians and most want to do whatever they can to see it triumph. But what if the best possible way you could help the Empire succeed was not to pursue your own advancement but to help someone else succeed? A patriotic individual who encountered someone they believed was truly extraordinary might well devote their life to helping that person do all that they could for the Empire. There are endless variants on this, but this essential idea - that being a servant is a calling, and a noble calling at that, and that the servant chooses the master not the other way round - is central to the role of the servant in Empire.

What might such a relationship be like? Stripped of the idea of any inherent status divide, such individuals might well be great friends, confidantes or even lovers. At the very least, the character being served is likely to be very grateful for the help they are receiving - a situation that far better reflects the likely OOC dynamics between players playing these roles than one in which the servant is some poor wretch who is beneath his notice. The character being served is likely to want to include his servant in his council, because this individual is likely to be his most trusted aide.

In this setting, having a servant marks you out as a person of exceptional note. Most senators, generals and the like won't have any servants, but if someone does have a servant, it indicates that another human being considered them important enough to devote their life to helping them.

Service need not be menial, nor something that happens all the time. A Varushkan Boyar might have a servant who brings food and drinks for her guest, but the pair are just as likely to strap their armour on and fight side by side in battle. The warriors in her Schlacta fight for her, but they might also choose to take turns serving as her bodyguards. Her husband might act as her scribe, recording her messages and writing her letters. Because the characters have chosen to fill these roles, rather than being socially or financially assigned to them, it makes sense that they choose when and how they serve.

Ironically, this picture of servants, as valued and trusted sidekicks, rather than downtrodden unmentionables, is a common trope in fantasy literature. For all its class setting, the relationship of Jeeves and Wooster is closer to one in which Jeeves chooses to help Wooster than one in which Wooster dictates the terms of the relationship, otherwise it wouldn't be enjoyable to read. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Batman and Alfred, Elric and Moonglum - narrative stories have little use for faceless servants with no part in the story but to serve the drinks.

None of this precludes the possibilities for many other characterisations. If you want to play a servant whose only interest is the wages he is paid, then that is still possible. Of course money is another form of power in LRP. The Empire setting includes a structured economy which allows characters to strive to become wealthy, as well as many ways they can influence the course of political events in the Empire as they become rich. Again the default assumption here is one of monopolists, powerful merchants and entrepreneurs who seek to enrich the Empire and themselves, of heroes who are every bit as important in the setting as the politicians, the priests and the generals, because of the choices they have made.

The elements of the setting discussed here may seem subtle but they require a shift in understanding for players to fully understand the world of Empire - a world in which nobles do not exist but service is a noble calling; a fantasy setting in which people choose their leaders, not a feudal setting where leaders accept their fealty, where meaningful titles are bestowed by your peers and no-one is born to sit on the Imperial Throne... but everyone can aspire to it.
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Camillius

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PostSubject: Re: What We Know So Far - Empire LRP   Wed Jul 25, 2012 2:53 pm

Empire Delay

We regret that there we are running a little late releasing the Empire setting. We hope to have the promised sections ready in a week's time.
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