Parts of this post first appeared as part of an update on my Patreon, on April 15th 2019. I’ve edited it down a bit, as it was part of a “Wednesday Meeting” update and thus talked about things we discussed in the meeting that aren’t entirely useful.
Let’s start with some discussion about writing Winds of Fortune for event one.
Winds of Fortune
There’s two broad categories of Winds of Fortune – ones that are fun to write and ones that are a painful, soul-destroying slog to get right.
Fun to Write
An example of the former would be Focused and Methodical which more-or-less wrote itself. Brainstorming the mechanical elements was interesting, and as always with that kind of thing prompted some notes for later game. The bit that took the longest oddly enough was trying to get the upkeep correct for the four opportunities. My favourite is probably the Diora University College of Magic and Dramaturgy – because I also write the ritual texts produced by colleges the opportunity to include anecdotes and theories is potentially a lot of fun if the Empire chooses to take that option.
That said there’s also some potential for fun in the Frederick di Sarvos Faculty of Architecture in terms of coming up with interesting twiddles on commissions, or adding a little character to the write-up of whatever they are assigned to build with. I hope we’ve communicated that unlike the Almodin Oktístis builds from last year, this is a much more positive opportunity that won’t fuck around with player expectation quite so much.
Its normally tricky to make an indivisible pie opportunity work – if one of the pies is clearly “better” than the others it unbalances the decision one way or another. One way I like to get round that is to make sure as many pie recipes as possible have a blue component – that is something that isn’t purely mechanical or doesn’t reflect something that already exists. A blue opportunity is very hard to spreadsheet.
At the other end of the scale is Moving Mountains is No Easy Task. This one took considerably longer to finalize because of the optics around the Senate saying “no” at two consecutive events. We could have skipped it – with a Greater Majority Statement of Principle from a virtue assembly the choice is with us. In the end I wanted to respond to it for the obvious reason that it would create conflict – not just between the Synod and the Senate but also between the Synod and the Bourse. Matt took a little bit of convincing and was very concerned to ensure that this did not come across as we-the-writers saying “no, we want the Cinderpath Exchange so you have to have it.”
The original version of this Wind of Fortune had specific commission proposals for Navarr (weirwood) and Varushka (mithril), but towards the end of the development process we cut them. Matt’s concern was that they weighted the Wind of Fortune too heavily towards “we want the nations to have these things and fuck the public auction” and I think in retrospect he was right.
I think what makes the Wind more workable is the end section – which I think is more interesting than the first half specifically about the Cinderpath Exchange. We’ve presented the Synod with an opposed pair of mandates that let the players make a decision – should we give individual nations more opportunity to get white granite, mithril, weirwood, and ilium for virtuous reasons or should we encourage people to embrace free market economics?
One of the reasons I wanted to keep this Wind of Fortune (which I have already written a lot more about than the one I actually enjoyed amusingly) springs from the regular player criticism that the high prices of Bourse resources is “unfair”, and the (probably unsubstantiated) claim that the public auction lots are all bought up by the existing Bourse seats. Players who genuinely think this now have a lever whereby they can take action to make the Public Bourse at least “fairer” and improve national access to resources. It will be interesting to see if they take it.
Another way you can tell this Wind of Fortune was contentious – and the Jedi won’t tell you this, it’s more of a Sith story – is that the flavour text is comparatively short. That’s often a sign that Matt wrote it rather than me, and that usually means either I was utterly uninspired because the wind of fortune itself was a slog, or that my initial text was Not Safe For Facebook.
Tariffs are largely down to Matt and Graeme with some like grammar checking from me. It was initially intended to be a counterpart to the trade summit, but the more we worked on it the clearer it was that this was a potential tool for the Senate to influence foreign relations so we worked it up as a game update rather than a part of a wind of fortune.
We spent most of Winter discussing it on-and-off because it was a much less straightforward concept than it might look. For a while, we were resistant to doing it at al. It brings something above the abstraction layer that is not necessarily interesting to play with. Even when we started discussing it we knew that there was no way we were making it a numbers game – we ran a game in which international trade was all about the numbers and by the end the code had achieved sentience and was sending robots back into the past to kill waiters.
Furthermore, and I know some people will disagree with me, numbers are boring. What’s the difference between a 10% increase in taxation on-the-dock and a 12% increase? Is a foreign nation 2% more annoyed in the latter situation? How would I even start to model that? Would more than four people enjoy a meeting in which the topic of discussion was a 2% increase on taxes levied at Jarmish snow plows? You can tell by the way I’m phrasing the questions what my answer is.
In the end I’m pleased with what we came up with. It’s pretty clear – I think – that this is a diplomatic rather than economic tool. It’s about international relations not about raising money to build a wall round Brocéliande – which I think is one reason all the options other than “basic tariffs” costs the Senate money. I’m going to be fascinated to see how it plays on the field.
(There’s also a lengthy post about tariffs written by the Boss that you can find here if you are having trouble sleeping – Present Raff)
Another significant recent Senate update is the new power of appraisal.
I don’t have a huge amount to say about this just yet – we’d planned to put it out officially before E4 last year but didn’t get our arses in gear so it went out semi-officially. For me, its like a Senate specific version of Statement of Principle – a chance to tell us what the Senate thinks is important. I’m kind of looking forward to it – assuming we have succesfully communicated the balance right between “what we care about” and “the outcome we expect” (the former will be much more important than the latter in 78% of cases).
Appraisal also shows one of our smaller design principles. We didn’t put a monetary cost on it because it has a clear opportunity cost instead. Monetary costs are always less interesting than opportunity costs in my opinion. The question of “what will we do?” is much more interesting than “Is it worth it?” I think. it’s why I was pleased to see the five-throne cost go off Historical Research for example.
The game is about politics, and politics is much more fun when its people with different desires arguing than people arguing over whether project A or project B will give the most efficient return for the money.
ETA: At the first event since we published the rules we saw exactly this. Three different appraisals, all with very different people interested in them. There as a fair amount of debate and discussion around them, then one as picked. I imagine it is only a matter of time before we get a request for more appraisal opportunities…