Empire is a massive system, not only in terms of the size of the events – well over a thousand people – but also in that the background literature for the game is an effort of worldbuilding that you’d expect for something like the world of A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones), Dragon Age’s Thedas, or Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The wiki’s wordcount exceeded the full set of Harry Potter novels when the game launched, and has only been added to since then.
I’m a member of PD’s crew (I currently administer the wikis, help with the setup of networking on the game field and generally provide IT support; but previously was part of the NPC Civil Service and briefly helped run Game Operations and wrote some plot) but right now I play the game as Reichard Callan Remidos von Holmauer, part of The Seven Mirrors, a political salon and publishing house, which is in The League, an Imperial nation inspired by history such as the Republic of Venice, the Hanseatic League and Prague. The Prince of our guild is also currently the Empress, after a long and complicated campaign, and the image above is her being crowned last summer.
One of the things I love about Empire is the things created by the players that enhance the game world. From Steph Morris‘ banners of the nations that hang in the Imperial Senate, though to Daisy Abbott‘s glorious map of the Empire, and the photos around this article of other things. Roz & Simon, who head up and organise our Guild both in and out of character, do some fantastic work on the publishing house side of the guild too, creating mastercrafts of pamphlets and booklets. A lot are information that can be found on the wiki online, but brought into character in a pretty way, and the latest and best of these is the brand new Book of the Empire, a professionally printed, gold-leaf titled, 766 page hard-back book of beautifully designed and typeset (THE FONTS! THE TYPOGRAPHY! THE WOODCUTS!) sections of the ruleset about things like the houses of government, the Imperial religion, the history of the empire and its rulers, all the nations and how their magic works, how their senators are elected, what they’re like.
I’m consistently amazed at the time and effort people go to for this game. I’m not sure what’s next to top this, but I’m excited to find out…
(Header image is The crowning of the Empress of Flowers, photo by Tom Garnett)
For LARP events, including most recent Empire, PD relies on quite a bit of technology. With all the will in the world, keeping track of 1500 players and their characters, their medical highlights and plot highlights, is hard to do with bits of paper.
In this series of things, I’ll take you though some of the solutions we’ve found to problems in the field.
One of these is the tyranny of little bits of paper.
We run in a mock-medieval setting, of kingdoms and knights, orcs and wizards. But on the field, we generally avoid doing in-character things on computers. The refs are issued android tablets, which can be used to record the game events we need to keep track of (Rituals cast, etc.) and we’ll get to the tech of that some time later. Empire, though, has admin that happens in the field, be it the resource trading of the Bourse, or the House of Cards politics of the senate. All this happens on bits of paper, because there’s nothing quite so immersion breaking as dealing with a medieval clerk poking away at an iPad.
Plus, characters in the field communicate with off-site NPCs – and sometimes each other – with letters.
However, this leads us with important information on bits of paper that needs to be kept, and bits of paper are absolutely fucking awful. They get lost, they get muddy, they get out of order, out of place. Only one person has it at any one time, and whoever has it has to physically transport it somewhere else before it can be viewed by others. Kill it, kill it with – terrifyingly effective – fire.
We try to keep information on the wiki, one of three Mediawiki installs (A crew information one, a plot one, and a public one), so generally the first thing that happens after an event is that people try to type up their information and put it in the wiki. But typing up that kind of thing is time consuming, and is likely to lose any interesting layout or design the players have put into it, and it would be far better if we could do it in the field. And nobody has time to type up their notes in the field, we’ve got things to run.
For odyssey last year, I brought my Doxie scanner to solve this problem for the smaller game, and when that worked well, asked PD to get one themselves.
1. People who had stuff to scan fed it though the Doxie, and it went on the SD card.
The Doxie document scanner is a wonder of modern technology. It’s a small box, about the size of a roll of tin-foil, and you put documents in one side, and it scans them and puts them onto an SD card. It’s got rechargeable batteries, so it doesn’t need to be plugged in, and it looks like a USB Mass Storage device when you plug its USB port in. It’s the centre point of my own paperless system, which I’ll talk about in a future article.
Importantly, once the person had finished scanning stuff, they could go away and do whatever their job is supposed to be.
2. When the Doxie is plugged into my laptop, do stuff.
Sitting on my laptop was Hazel, an OS X utility to Do Things When Things Happen. It’s an awesome utility, but in this case could be replaced by anything with the ability to notice a directory has changed, and do something.
3. Specifically, run a python script to upload anything new in the directory to the Wiki
Once it’s on the wiki, users could add categories and stuff to make sure things didn’t get lost.
What went right
It worked. There are a few dozen senate motions, and a load of things from the Conclave, that are sitting up on the wiki that would usually be waiting until someone had time to type them up.
It was easy to use. Once people got the hang of feeding stuff to the scanner, they could do so fairly quickly.
Knowledge Transfer. I ended up being the person who used it most, partly because of the few people who knew it was there, I was the one with the most paper.
The Mud. There is no set of positive/negatives for last event that doesn’t feature the mud, but in this case, people were – rightfully – wary of feeding a document scanner anything that had encountered the wet and sticky ground
Single point of failure. Because I wrote the software for my mac, it only worked when it was plugged in to that, and my desk is a bit out of the way.
Power. The Doxie Go, which I have, has a built-in rechargable battery. The Doxie One, which I recommended to PD, requires NiCad batteries before that works, which we didn’t have on site, so it was tethered to my desk by a dodgy power cable.
Fussy Scanning. The Doxie is a bit fussy about straight edges of things going in, which isn’t great for the random edges of player-supplied paper. We can solve this by having a clear plastic wallet to put things in if the Doxie’s being picky.
No Preview. Stuff going directly to the wiki includes duplicates, and failures – like things that went though diagonally.
In general, though, it was a nice solution to a problem we’ve been having, and now we can make the incremental steps to make it even better…
There is a moment when you stagger back into your home after five days in a field, and the concept of carpeted floors just looks… strange and alien. Maybe it’s tiredness, or the tendency of the human brain to adapt and then reject change, but the concept of solid floors becomes strange to your brain, and incredibly welcome.
When you have a field, and it’s been raining for a while, and then you put a couple of thousand people on it, you get mud. Second event last year we had a similar problem, but that mud was being regenerated by fairly constant rain, this mud was drying out. When we arrived, and the site was starting to look a bit bleak, people were saying “The drainage on the site is awesome” in an increasingly cult-like and familiar tone. It became something of a running joke, because on Sunday, when I took the header photo, it looked like that. But the mud was drying, though the thick, claggy, viscous semi-solid that sucked at your boots as it sucked at your soul, into – in some places – a walkable surface. An attack with a roller helped, but with some incredible effort on the part of our miracle-working site team, people were getting off the field. As a small part of PD crew, I am occasionally reminded that I work with some of the most dedicated and selfless people I have ever met, who sacrifice incredible amounts of both time and energy to make the game better for not only the players, but also the other crew.
It’s traditional1 to produce event summaries in positive/negative format, so:
+ Senate process is, I think, about as good as I can get it right now.
+ The Empress Election procedure got run, after some discussion of precision, had actual firebrand speeches, even if nobody actually won
+ New characters with extreme interest in the senate processes make the amount of work I put into physrepping them more worthwhile.
+ The new procedure for not typing up senate motions during the event has made my life a lot easier, too.
+ My sleeping setup was warm enough
+ Having been converted to the cult of Sealskinz socks, my feet remained both warm and dry for the whole event
+ With the careful application of thermals, the rest of me also remained warm
– … Except for Sunday, when I decided that the day was warm enough to forgo them, forgetting that the night would not be, and changing time is unlikely.
+ I’m more and more happy with my lineage physrepping. I’d prefer if I could do it on my own, but Makeup don’t mind
– … I need to stop forgetting to reapply it in the mornings.
+ I actually had a lot of fun making this thing go, although it was the most exhausting event I’ve ever crewed (see above re: claggy mud).
– The mud. All the mud.
– A number of unnecessarily hard simple things, which we need to fix internal process on.
– Same as above, but for my colleagues, and the rate at which it’s wearing them down.
– Some timetable changes meaning my ability to social during the event has drastically cut down.
– Guilt, since I can either get home in reasonable time *or* help pack down. This can only be fixed by learning to drive, really.
In general, though, an exhausting but really good event for me. Thanks to the rest of the CS, especially Harry & Kate, for being a great team to work in.
Empire happened. My pedometer is happy with me, and wishes for me to know that I walked thirty miles over the course of Thursday to Monday. My boots agree.
It had low bar to clear to be my Best Empire Ever, and cleared it high. I was asked to take over the admin-side of the Senate system, which I think I did successfully. I enjoyed being able to advise player characters on how best to use the political powers they have, and I believe it was a good start. I felt useful and appreciated, which is always nice. But also, some of the process changes and conversations can help make the game better for the players, rather than instruct the players on how best to play the elysian ideal of the game.
I enjoyed the game a lot, but part of the new systems involved sacrificing my fun and energy for the betterment of the game and players, and my major aim is to claw some of that back – not all, because the trade of some or all of character agency, fun and energy for game, player betterment and meal tickets are pretty much the definition of crewing, but I’d like to whittle down the amount of crazy it takes to do my bits to the point where someone else is willing to if I’m not there.
The game went really well from our perspective, I think. Gate & GOD especially seemed to be running like oiled clockwork, Site seemed to be almost entirely ahead of where players were likely to need them, and the organised chaos of Plot appeared to be getting everything out. There are lessons learned, tweaks to be made, conversations to be had; but it looks like the game as a whole is starting to find it’s stride.