Twenty Ways To Make Conclave Worse (While Appearing to Make it Better)

Panther

This Panther hates how long Conclave goes on for. She’ll sort it right out if we just trust her to deliver on her promises.

There’s been a lot of talk about improving Conclave. My Boss argues that any improvement just makes the situation worse (that is, that whenever Conclave improves, the number of people who want to attend it increases largely negating whatever improvement we have just made). I think he lacks Ambition.

With that in mind, here are my top twenty ways to make Conclave Better (while probably making it worse and thus smaller which is a win for everyone). You can probably think of some more yourself.

(Change One) Refine the Irregular Verb

It’s straightforward enough. I make insightful points. You contribute I guess. He/She/They take the piss and waste everyone’s time. So what we need to do to make Conclave better is stop he/she/they talking. This would work fine because surely nobody would think I am taking the piss and wasting everyone’s time? Identify magicians who nobody likes – perhaps through a black-ball process – and exclude them from Conclave. Or silence them at least. I mean, we still want them to vote right? We don’t want to be unmutual. Just make sure that only the right people participate. See also “Wizards should be rare and powerful, but I should definitely be allowed to play one.”

(Change Two) Grandmasters Only

Only the Grandmasters get to talk. This means that Conclave becomes a spectator sport except for the six people who win the Order elections. If 90s LARP has taught us nothing else its that people love watching other people do all the talking. Has the advantage that anyone who wants to feel like they matter will really, really want to be Grandmaster.

(Change Three) Limited Rounds

Instead of going round until every Grandmaster passes, only go round once. This is, unfortunately, likely to be indistinguishable from Point Two in practice. The difference would be that occasionally when they have nothing to say the Grandmaster would let someone they know quite well speak.

(Change Four) Absolute Silence

Nobody can speak in Conclave unless they have paid their mana. Everyone not currently speaking must be absolutely silent. Cough more than once and you’re thrown out. People would quickly learn sign-language so they could communicate to their Grandmaster that they wanted to speak. Little flags would become standard pieces of equipment – red ones for “Booooo!” and blue ones for “Hurrah!” perhaps. Has the slight downside that it will make Conclave feel like one of those awful detentions. Has the upside fewer people will come, meaning more seats.

(Change Five) Make Harry Run It

Harry

I really want to be there to see his face when we tell him we want him to do Conclave now as well as Senate

Senate works because the Speakers control the flow of debate with nuance, allowing discussions to go on long enough to be interesting but cutting people off when they are “me too”ing or when the outcome is looking pretty obvious. In Conclave this would regrettably mean that the control of the debate would shift from the Grandmasters to an NPC, but its better than having three hour Conclave meetings. You would not get your mana refunded if the Speaker decided you were waffling, unfortunately, but that’s the breaks.

(Change Six) Time Limit

Conclave lasts one hour. This means that on average it will sort out six things, perhaps twelve if you are lucky. Sadly, in the currently way of doing things, this means that the Conclave will not get through all its addresses, much less be able to appoint new Archmages or discuss whether Ira Harrah should have amity. Them’s the breaks. Has the unfortunate side effect that when the agenda opens there is a blood bath as people kill each other to get their thing on the agenda in one of the twelve available slots.

(Change Seven) Limit the Agenda to Orders

A variant of Change Six. The Agenda is limited to one item per Conclave Order. You need to convince the Grandmaster that the thing you want to do is more important than anything else anyone else in the Order and Conclave want to do. Means current titles never change and new titles are never elected – and stability is good! Also means that Friday session consists of six addresses from Archmages and nothing else, and Saturday session consists of three addresses from the most enthusiastic archmages, a declaration of amity/enmity against Ira Harrah (because that seems to be a once-an-event thing now), and two declarations of candidacy for Imperial Necromancer.

(Change Eight) Candidacy is Dumb

Nobody likes candidacy. It’s awful that people try and do politics to claim power. Stop candidacy being part of Conclave but also make sure everyone has a say and a chance to challenge for a title when he/she/they are doing it wrong. Perhaps more meetings is the answer, especially if the meetings are held in a dark cellar behind a locked filing cabinet in a room with a sign on the door saying “BEWARE OF THE PANTHER” so he/she/they can’t come along and ask stupid questions.

(Change Nine) All About the Grandmasters

Basically turn Conclave into the Council of Nine. Only Grandmasters raise agenda points, only Grandmasters talk, only Grandmasters vote. Everyone else can spend their time having a laugh at one of the in-character bars on the far side of site.

(Change Ten) People Can Participate Without Going

Every magician gets a big bag of individualised tokens, at least equal to the number of things that will be voted on by Conclave this event. They give that bag of tokens to either the sacrificial goat from their group (pick the least popular wizard), or to the person chosen to represent their nation in Conclave. That player then does all the voting. With the individualised tokens. The Conclave CS then check to make sure nobody has cheated before announcing the result of each vote. Alternatively, each wizard gets only one token and is only allowed to vote on the thing they most care about, to prevent people putting multiple tokens in the pot. Or the number of tokens you get is based on how many ranks of ritual lore plus additional spells you have and you ration them out over the course of the event. Or session! Adding a section at the end where people queue to get their tokens back is great.

(Change Eleven) It’s the Synod

No meetings at all, people just put a cross on the “yea” or “nay” side of a Declaration Paper that hangs in the Hall of Worlds. It works for the Synod!

(Change Twelve) More seats

Unfortunately, more seats means more people will be able to sit down and be comfortable which means Conclave will be longer. Also more people will turn up. Meaning Conclave will be longer. And unless we restrict participation to only people who get seats, Conclave will still be packed.

(Change Thirteen) Fewer seats

Counterpart to Twelve – tricky to do both at the same time but not impossible. I want solutions not problems! Anyway. Make Conclave even more uncomfortable means fewer people will turn up and those who do will be proper hardcore. Can create same effect by making them drink three pints of water before entering and prevent anyone who leaves coming back in.

(Change Fourteen) No Discussion

Don’t let people discuss things with the person raising the Declaration or Address. Now, this might mean that bad people say terrible, misinformed things and nobody can rebut them but that’s what happens in the real world more-or-less and its not done us any harm. I’m not a monster though – after every one minute declaration there is a one-minute free-for-all in which people can say whatever they like as loudly as they like. Then there’s a vote.

(Change Fifteen) More Discussion

People think Conclave is long now? Make it so that there everyone in the room has to spend a minute questioning the person who raises a declaration. No exceptions. We’ll show Senate, Military Council how long and tedious Conclave meetings can be.

(Change Sixteen) Fewer Declarations, More Titles

Make Sorcery, Interdiction, Imperial Lore, Amity/Enmity, Disemmination and Endowment powers of specific titles. No more declaration – discussion – vote rubbish. Title just stands up one a Conclave and tells everyone the decisions they have made vis a vis these former declarations. Eg “I have decided Ancél and Zephaniah are sorcerers”, “I’m interdicting Hands of Sacred Life because I hate the name” etc etc. Leaves much more time for Addresses and Candidacy. Although there’s no reason there couldn’t be a title who does all the Addresses (picked for their excellent and entertaining public speaking no doubt), and Candidacies (speeds everything up for everyone).

(Change Seventeen) Facebook

Hear me out! We know you can do polls on Facebook. Put the Agenda on Facebook in a group only people with the Magician skill can vote in. Everyone brings their phones to Conclave. Debate happens in comments section. At end of session, all polls are closed and the CS announce the results an hour later once they’ve run the numbers. Has the advantage that anyone can participate from anywhere in the field as long as they have WiFi. Biggest advantage is that even people who don’t come to the events can participate. Potentially, could move entire Conclave into post-event period, meaning longer to debate/vote with all results announced in Winds of Fortune. This plan has no drawbacks.

(Apart from one, apparently, which is that being connected to the WiFi will prevent the use of Facebook, as PD WiFi has no Internet connection. Or so Dave K tells me. Stupid technology)

(Change Eighteen) Rhyme

MadnessofThebard

I’m 78% certain that when we implement OPERATION: MADNESS OF THE BARD this time nobody will throw a massive strop and refuse to keep playing the game. Nobody.

All statements in Conclave must rhyme. A/B/A/B or A/A/B/B rhyming only. Anyone who doesn’t rhyme loses a point of Blood Pool.

(This is an obscure reference. Suffice to say that I had more than one game of Vampire : The Eternal Struggle go sideways because it turned out I was playing with someone who did not appreciate the true genius of having a card that meant all table talk had to be in rhyming sentences. It wasn’t even that hard to get rid of. I digress.)

Debate still requires hard skill, but its not the hard skill you were expecting.

Sadly, gives unfair advantage to rap artists and beat poets.

(Change Nineteen) For the Love of God Stop!

Institute a simple voting system whereby if half the room are shouting “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LETS VOTE ALREADY!” the current discussion is curtailed and we move directly to the vote. Subject to tyranny of the majority, and to the need for some metric for working out if it is half the room or not that is shouting at any given moment.

(Change Twenty) Dance Off

All Conclave decisions made by dance-off moderated by an NPC. Bonus points if NPC has personal agenda based on what will “make the best story”. Has the advantage that Tim Baker will love it.

(Change Twenty-One) Spiders

Everyone says the Conclave where giant spiders attacked was the best ever. Yet at the same time two short interruptions in which eternals shout at people were the worst thing ever. As a compromise every Conclave will now be interrupted by a camp attack, but the creatures responsible will also engage in a spirited debate with an archmage while trying to murder all the wizards. In practice will be very similar to Change Twenty.

(Change Twenty-Two) Panther

Release a wild panther into the Hall of Worlds. Conclave becomes least of anyone’s problems.

Politics Is Not A Dirty Word

Following on from his last post about the Synod, I badgered award winning organiser of live-roleplaying games John Haynes into writing me something else. It’s a bit rambly, but he’s just finished running a major Jurassica event bless his little cotton-tail. It’s possible that some t-rexes may turn up in this piece; if they do just ignore them. They can only see you if you pay attention to them or sutin.

In other news, I’m quite enjoying having someone write things for me when I’m too busy doing my actual job to do it myself.

Politics Is Not A Dirty Word

Political

John “Not a cult leader” Haynes wants you to be a political roleplayer.

That title is what PD first said to me when they asked me to write this. I think i was asked because I played a senator back when i played in Navarr and also I have a relative thick skin when the internet gets angry about the suggestion that Empire is a political game and that playing politics at Empire is a valid form of roleplay.

He’s not wrong. Also I find it really easy to manipulate him into doing things for me, using the cunning tool of asking him nicely. This is probably politics in action. RAFF

That and my writing style means Andy can insert comedy snarky comments all the way through it to highlight specific bits of information as important, tricking you into believing its off the cuff banter rather than information you should know.

Hmpf. RAFF

I suppose I should say what politics is within the context of Lrp and Empire (By should, I mean my editor told me to) .

Within lrp, Empire specifically it aligns closely with the dictionary definition of Politics. Politics in Empire is about the running of the Empire, but also improving your status or power within the Empire. It in many ways could be described as power and influence.

Politics for me at empire is not a dry boring running by statistics  and administration of a government, no its more to do with the high drama of gaining power and influence to get what you want, to push your agenda. Your goals and political desires are an extension of your character writ large on the face of an Empire. It is arguing with it is opponents and backroom deals. It is the weft of history rather than counting beans or camp attacks. Politics is about player agency, if you can roleplay hard and put the work in you can grasp the things you want.

Or even better gain bitter rivals to butt heads against and allies who have your back, sometimes for a price. It’s about being stabbed in the back and enjoying your made up ploys and plans come undone at the hands of a rival or getting things passed in senate that are unpopular through the strength of a good speech and a well placed priest watching for unvirtuous behaviour.

Conflict, My Neighbour Totoro, and Titles

The centre of good drama is conflict (other than My Neighbour Totoro – that’s good without conflict).

It’s not really drama though is it? RAFF

At Empire, conflict is usually built around politics.

Empire was designed as a political PvP fest game at its core. That’s why there is so much emphasis on players having positions or titles, and using those positions or titles to change the game world. The driving force behind a lot of player interactions is them chasing the things they want through talking (rather than stabbing).

Personally I hate “PvP” as a term by the way. It makes a live roleplaying game feel like the actual character is just the equivalent of a cricket bat you use while exploiting every advantage you can get to beat your opponent. I much prefer “Character versus Character” as a descriptor. The Boss talks about “Character with Character” as the foundation for a game where people interact with each other in a variety of ways that “make game” whatever the fuck that means. RAFF

The very fact that the person sitting on the throne is a player speaks volumes to this fact. The fact that the Empress is a player actually probably needs repeating on a very regular basis so that player doesn’t get treated like an NPC 

Have I mentioned that I also hate it when people treat characters in a game differently based on whether they perceive them to be players or non-players? I could rant about that but I won’t as this is technically John’s piece. RAFF

Politics is encouraged at Empire. The fact there are no real jobs for life, and almost every significant position in the Empire is voted on or appointed by other players is a core part of the design. It allows players to have real power rather than a safe little title that doesn’t effect the world in a meaningful way.

TotoroHappy

Totoro mostly seems to want people to live in harmony with each other and the world. I love Totoro. But at Empire I would grind him into the mud in pursuit of total domination.

While some positions have tenure – meaning they are technically lifetime jobs –  there’s almost always someone who can remove you from your position if they want someone else to have it. RAFF

The other reason titles exist is to create game. Give someone power and others will want it. If there is no mechanism to remove them or vote new people in its a waste of game and drama. 

There’s a great bit in Carpe Jugulum in which Pratchett basically talks about how the more powerful something is, the more vulnerable it has to be. He’s talking about vampires, but it applies to titles in Empire. It’s no coincidence that the sinecures are the titles that tend to be voted on least while the titles with actual power are almost always annual appointments.  Man I need to shut up and let John talk. I’m meant to be writing Winds of War. RAFF

Imperial Titles (Levers and Hats)

Now if its a job in the Empire it needs three things.

It needs a system of election that is not for life; it needs a lever to change the world in some way; and it needs a trap door under it so people can remove someone from position without knives by the toilet block.

It also needs a nice hat, but we have a limited budget. RAFF

Without these things there is no accountability, no way of removing someone not doing the job and its not making game. This is why almost all positions in the Empire can be revoked, have a carrot to make you want them, and have a way of being elected that means you are ideally in competition with other people. 

(Well at least these days they do; some of the naughtier senators may have passed positions that only they could vote for back in the day before the Constitutional Court cottoned on to what they were doing).

WE DON’T TALK ABOUT THESE THINGS. RAFF.

Every system in Empire is geared towards encouraging social interaction, and that usually means conflict.

Now some people might suggest that this constant emphasis on competition is a bit harsh. Players often want to take more cooperative approaches in which everyone gets what they want. Unfortunately, the DNA of Empire is built on the the idea that drama comes from conflict not from sharing. Its like slipping Risk cards into the Monopoly chest. You can do it, you might even enjoy it, but at least some of the people at the table sat down to play Monopoly and are very confused now about having to invade Australia so they can get more troops. 

Any that aren’t I imagine would be retooled in quick order to ensure that nothing is self contained. By making sure that people need to talk to each other it creates nexuses of interaction, and by making conflict it causes drama and political interaction.

Not everything is about conflict. We also want to create spaces for people to just hang out and have fun – listen to stories, sing songs, share a beer. But that’s something players naturally do themselves. We rarely have to provoke them into enjoying themselves in this manner. So we focus our energy and design in the other direction – toward things that create conflict or that reward people for engaging in politics. RAFF

We Want You Political

PD is giving you permission to pursue your own agenda at Empire. It’s encouraging you to put what you want ahead of what other people want. It is very much waving carrots to persuade you to play political games with your peers – to in-character manipulate other characters into doing what you want. 

So why is politics not a dirty word?

One reason I think is that in a live game it’s often difficult to differentiate between manipulating a character and manipulating a player – or rather from the point of view of the player being manipulated/influenced there’s little difference. This can definitely prompt unhappiness and bad feelings. A lot of people don’t like to feel like they were tricked by someone at a game they are both playing. It’s a weakness of Empire that the organisers like that kind of experience and built it into the DNA (ugh) of the game. RAFF

One reason is because it’s roleplay. It gives you a hook for high drama, conflict, regrets, triumphs, defeats, and strong character motivation. The idea that somehow it’s dirty and that the players involved in it are somehow ‘doing it wrong’ and not actually role-playing is very strange. It’s like suggesting that The West Wing, or the Sopranos, or House of Cards are not valid drama. 

Let’s look at some examples Dune is the story of fuel, the control of the means of production of that fuel, the exploitation of the locals through religion and the after effects of that. It is a profoundly political story. 

Need I mention Game of Thrones? I watched the first season, it seemed a tiny little bit based around politics. There was even a Throne people were fighting over.

IronThrone

I think the Imperial Throne looks a wee bit more comfortable. Although I imagine it still needs a cushion.

What I mean is that a great many of the timeless classics of the fantasy and science fiction genres that live-roleplaying draws on are profoundly political stories. You only need to look at the sort of influences Profound Decisions mentions when they talk about them to see that they want to emulate political stories rather than heroic quest stories, for example.

As a means to drama and roleplay, Politics can’t really be beaten. Even the complex web of relationships ballgowners like me enjoy is just social politics if you look at it from a certain point of view.

To say that politics is not a valid play style is unfortunately akin to saying there is one way to lrp, but also more importantly its saying Empire is not a valid game.

I’m not sure I’d go quite this far – not everyone enjoys politics. Saying that not liking politics is not valid is a bit of a stretch. But John talks about this in the next section so I’ll shut up again. RAFF

You Do You

Now for some folks politics is a turn off, and that’s cool. I do not enjoy mass battles. It’s not my thing. I often read about the theory of them, talk to people who run them, but i have no interest in them as a participant, it’s not my thing anymore. And that’s cool, I don’t have to actively engage with them, but i may have to passively.

This is where things get contentious.

If a battle goes wrong and it damages my resource production, I’ve lost a coven member or the objective involved liberating my territory, a thing I have no interest in has affected my game.

What do i do?

Well, I roll with the punches. I could email PD and say that battles ruin my game and should not intrude on it, but Empire is a complex ecosystem and that’s not going to happen. Battles will interfere with my game and my game will be richer whether I like it or not.

Politics is the same. It will intrude on your game. You do not get a choice, the game is designed to do that.

A fella called Ryan Paddy I think it was described PD’s previous game (Maelstrom) as a series of interconnected games/economies rather than a single game. Empire is like that as well I think. If all the cogs are meshing right, then the battles influence the Imperial politics, which in turn influence the personal politics and the personal character stories, and vice versa. The interaction of these different parts of the game are the machinery that turns random stuff into emergent narrative. And now I have to put a pound in the emergent narrative jar. RAFF

Wanting Things Is Half The Battle

Here’s an example of what I mean.

If you want a Runeforge you had better go out there and get people on side, trade for cheap resources, find out what people want and use that as a lever to get them to do/give you what you want.

But Urizen might want a really swanky tower, and suddenly you are in competition for resources and Senate commissions. You are engaged in politics.

DinosaurHat

Quick! Ignore this dapper dinosaur! It’s got a gun!

More importantly Bob Marcher, that farm you want to upgrade? It just got a little bit more expensive as Urizen and Wintermark start trying to buy the resources they need for the thing they want.

So you are complaining the Bourse makes the 1% richer to the Synod (feature not a bug) who have decided they are fed up with the Bourse members buying all the religious artifacts in private auction so you are an excuse to go after them…

Hey i see you over there Dawn player of House …..erm…. Verte….and your run at the Throne. Now you need to decide if you want Wintermark or Urizen on side, so you know whose bid on the Senate floor you will conspicuously support.

Of course now the people who work in the Throneguard are looking down the barrel of unemployment because if your Throne run goes ahead they sure as shit are not keeping their jobs and neither are any of the Imperial advisors – unless they jump ship.

All of a sudden a bunch of stuff got very complex and it’s all because politics.

Because people have goals and ambitions in the game, but there is a limited supply of chances to realise those goals and ambitions (in terms of available motions, or the amounts of materials, or the amount of damage to the treasury the Senate is prepared to tolerate, or whatever). Competition is the most obvious way to encourage political game play. RAFF

Push Your Agenda

So why should you care? Well if you try and ignore politics, it will still happen around you, just like the mass battles will. Instead of charting your own course, you will be caught in its wake. Almost every Wind of Fortune is created to create political tension. 

So if you want to influence the world of Empire you should have opinions, you should lean on your Senators and priests. You should go to Conclave and vote, vote the way you want to vote – unless someone bribes you to vote they way they want.

One of the reasons to have opinions, in my opinion, is that it identifies you as a playah. Not a player, a playah. It signals to other people with goals and agendas that you are available for political game play. That you’re someone who they should try to influence, possibly by giving you what they want. People tend not to worry about how the people who don’t vote might have voted, for example. RAFF

When your leaders tell you stuff and you don’t really agree with it, don’t agree with it. Remind them who they work for. Let’s face it the greatest threat to a person in high office (Senators, Cardinals etc) is a motivated bunch of people, actively holding them to account and expecting them to support the people who put them there.

This applies just as much to the people those people appoint. All Senators and Cardinals are elected/appointed by a group of players. Those Senators and Cardinals may be able to appoint (say) Generals or Gatekeepers, but if you don’t like the people they appoint make it clear that you’ll be supporting someone else for their position next time it comes up for election.

One Last Thing

Diras

The nice (?) thing about Empire is that while we have tried to create a game where the players are powerful, and have agency, and possess the ability to change things, we have also create an environment where some players are 100% in-character working to try and convince people they aren’t powerful, they don’t have agency, and they can’t change anything so as to preseve their own in-character status.

Because here is the big secret of Empire.

It’s not really a secret John we bang on about it all the time. RAFF

In most live roleplaying the economy is trickle down, at Empire nearly everyone has similar resources, but through joining together in large enough power blocks they can have huge amounts of control.

The same is true of the politics of the game. You can unseat your Senators with enough people working together. Fed up with the Empire placing foreign slaves ahead of Imperial citizens in chains? You can do that, if enough people agree. But here’s the catch…..

It takes roleplay to do that. Political roleplay.

(And if someone says you cannot change anything at Empire without a group of OOC friends, just tell them that all the best senators were solo players 😉 )

I hope you found that as interesting to read as I found it to edit. You might want to engage (ugh) by posting something about your own experiences/opinions in the comments so John can argue with you. If I needed to sum up I would say; Empire is designed to be a game full of interactions with other people. if you want to get the most out of the game, have opinions about things and wield whatever influence you’ve got at every available opportunity. Set yourself ambitious goals and then go out and try to achieve them.

And if anyone complains that politics is not roleplaying, or that wanting an Imperial title is not an in-character goal, you have my permission to push them into the mud. Which there is bound to be some of, because PeeDee. RAFF