Dealing with the Eternals

How Can I Get An Eternal To Notice Me?

In 2017, we introduced the archmagepower of plenipotentiary to the game. This power allows each of the six archmages to send a message each event to an eternalof their choice from the appropriate realm. The message ensures that the eternal will receive it, and that there will be some sort of response.

We did this for a number of reasons. It allows us to commit ourselves to a manageable number of definite eternal encounters each event, putting control over which eternals they are largely in the hands of the players. It give the archmages a power that reinforces their role as representatives of their realm to the Empire, and the Empire to the inhabitants of their realm. It’s also a power that has limited use which means that other players will want to use their influence to get the archmage to speak to the eternal they want to speak to about the topics they care about. It might even mean that someone is incentivised to become archmage to get hold of this versatile power.

It also gives us a reliable answer when someone asks us “how can I attract the attention of the eternal so-and-so”. Speak to the archmage, get them to use their plenipotentiary with that eternal. Bosch. Job done.

The plenipotentiary is powerful, but it’s not open ended. Just like Call Winged Messenger there is a limit on how many words you can send to the eternal. Also like Winged Messenger, there’s no guarantee that you will get the response you want – only that there will be a response.

I read all the plenipotentiary messages, and work with the other plot writers and NPC crew to create the encounters that result. Over the last three years, we’ve had some great plenipotentiaries that have had a significant impact on the game. But at the same time we’ve seen the same handful of errors turn up again and again that make it much trickier for us to frame our response to the plenipotentiary.

This blog post exists because the award-winning Dave Kibblewhite (who heads up the plot team) had enough of me complaining about these mistakes, and pointed out that unless we tell players where they are going wrong they’ve got no way of knowing.

Getting a Response

Plenipotentiary is probably the most reliable way of getting the attention of an eternal in that it guarantees some sort of response. It might not be the response you’re looking for, but the nature of the ability means that something is going to happen as a result of this.

Often this will mean some kind of meeting – sometimes with the eternal themselves more often with a favoured herald. Sometimes this will be face-to-face, sometimes it’ll involve someone shouting at you from behind a curtain. Sometimes it will take place in the Hall of Worlds and anyone who can get there will be able to observe or participate. Sometimes it will be a formal parley with both sides enjoying the protection of supernatural forces that enforce peaceful contact; sometimes it won’t and shark-monsters will try to eat the archmage. Sometimes it will mean an invitation to a private meeting – an encounter tent representing a chamber between worlds or more rarely a trip through the Sentinel Gate.

On occasion, there won’t be a meeting and instead the response will take another form such as the eternal in question creating (or helping to create) some kind of opportunity. On very rare occasions the eternal may decline a meeting, or you might end up with an offer for a parley from a different eternal.

Regardless, there will be some sort of response even if it’s just a polite “no thank you, please don’t contact me again” from an eternal Not Appearing In This Movie.

The response to a plenipotentiary is almost always included in a dedicated Wind of Fortune. The eternal will acknowledge the message, and either arrange a meeting or explain what they’re doing instead. With eternals who don’t like the Empire, this may be pretty terse; an eternal who is chummy with Imperial citizens may offer more detail.

One thing that almost every plenipotentiary response will include if it has resulted in a meeting will be a list of the topics the eternal is going to discuss. Nine times out of ten the eternal will be up front about this, but where the eternal (or the writer) wants to create a little mystery, or preserve the ability of an Archmage to discuss sensitive issues without being immediately inquisited, they may obfuscate or use euphemisms.

This last bit is subtle but important. Unless the eternal (or the writer) is in-character a massive dick, they don’t want to get the archmage into trouble by publicly broadcasting any illegal or dubious matters that were raised in the plenipotentiary. We do this for two reasons – because we don’t want to punish the player for trying something risky and because we don’t want the player to feel they can’t be up front in their message about what they want to address.

When we’re writing the response for a plenipotentiary, we’re also looking to find ways to increase player involvement. One obvious way to do this is to have any meeting or parley take place in the Hall of Worlds and let anyone attend, but that’s not the only way. A more private meeting that has a restricted guest list can also “create game” by encouraging people to interact with the archmage (or on rare occasions someone else entirely).

The Archmage who sent the missive will usually be involved somehow in whatever response comes from their plenipotentiary. After all, it’s their power that has been used. Sometimes though, especially if the eternal (or writer) is feeling like a bit of a dick, or there’s someone else on the field the eternal “likes” more, they may include someone else prominently in their response. A theoretical example might be that Phaleron may want to ensure that the Emissary to the Celestial Library is involved in any parley it offers, given that title brings with it a “personal” relationship with the Giant Space Library.

 

The Bit with the Guidelines

So, with all that in mind, how can someone maximise their chances of getting some kind of on-average positive and helpful response from a plenipotentiary?

The first two – Know Your Audience and Tell Us What It Is You Want – are the big ones but the other four are also worth bearing in mind.

Know Your Audience

A plenipotentiary – for that matter any messege to an eternal and any winged messenger – represents an in-character communication between you and your target. Before you send a message, read up on the eternal you are about to talk to on the wiki and double-check that you have the right target and the right topics.

The wiki pages aren’t exhaustive, but they provide broad strokes information that can ensure that you don’t screw up and accidentally annoy the eternal (or whoever) you’re writing to. For example, if you want to talk about getting magical assistance to perform a powerful ritual you might want to talk to Sadogua. If that ritual is about hiding a castle, maybe the Whisper Gallery, or Sung, will be able to help you. Janonis probably not a great fit, and Lashonar or Azoth are unlikely to be massiely helpful unless you can phrase your request in such a way that it plays to their strengths or interests.

The eternals are not an open-ended toolbox, and the eternals are not interchangeable. There are some obvious “holes” in their interests – we didn’t set out to make a “pantheon” in each realm with a representative who covers every possible topic that a player might want to talk about.

The Empire is not aware of an Autumn realm eternal whose main interest is warfare, for example. You can certainly talk to an Autumn eternal about fighting, or aid in war, but if you want the best chance of a positive response you want to tailor your approach to what the eternal is actually interested in. You might talk to Estavus about weapons, armour, and brass minotaurs for example. Possibly see if one of Ephisis‘ vice-presidents can hook you up with mercenaries, or bulk buying mithril hammers or what have you. Maybe ask Prospero if there are any favours they might call in if you’re prepared for some potentially off-the-wall responses.

The eternals history with the Empire is also relevant; eternals remember things that happened in the game so far. Llofir might be the perfect candidate for a discussion about getting rid of a rampaging army of zombies… but the Great Mushroom is probably going to want to start any meeting with a discussion about the way the Empire burned down his garden in Reikos and slaughtered a bunch of his weird little heralds.

Tell Us What It Is You Want

One of the most important things when sending a plenipotentiary message to an eternal – or again when dealing with any non-player character you interact with at a distance – is to be specific about what you want, or what you want to talk about. Lay it out as clearly as possible. If what you want is help defending Zenith from the Druj, “I want your help” is literally useless. “I want you help protecting the Empire” is better. “I want your help to defend Zenith from the Druj” is maybe best of all.

A phrase I encounter a lot in plenipotentiary messages, and in other missives to eternals, is some variant of “we must talk” or “we must discuss matters of mutual interest” or even “a number of other people also want to talk to you”.

Don’t do this! It’s pure poison. It tells the eternal nothing – they already know you want to talk because you have sent them a message. They already assume it is on matters of mutual interest because why else would they want to talk to you?

When any kind of message between player-character an non-player character is vague, there’s two likely responses.

The most common response is for the eternal to define what the topics under discussion are going to be. This might work in your favour, but it’s completely up to chance at that point.

The second most likely response is for the non-player character to turn up, ask what it is you wanted to talk about, say thank you, and leave. Probably while suggesting you use another plenipotentiary next event to continue the discussion.

One of the points of a plenipotentiary is to take the place of that initial meeting where the player character says “here’s what I want” and the eternal (inevitably) says “I’ll think about it” – a phrase which here means “I need to go and discuss this with the game team.” Eternals have a lot of power and need careful handling by the game team and the plot writers. I can count the number of times there’s been a truly positive outcome to an eternal making something up on the spot on the fingers of one leg.

Ask for Help to Achieve Something

One of the primary out-of-character reasons eternals exist is to create a lever that a player can use to achieve things they might be unable to do otherwise. You are much more likely to get a positive response from an eternal if you lay out your goal, and explain how the eternal can help you do something to make that goal happen. Eternals are very unlikely to just wave their hands and sort your problem out – as an example look at the way Phaleron offered its aid to the Urizen in their recent troubles in Morrow. The Urizen players needed to perform a powerful ritual to help the Celestial Library inhabit Canterspire; they needed to get the support of the Senate to create Urizen Lore. When we write eternal plot we are always looking for ways to encourage players to take actio in uptime rather than ways for a non-player character to just wave their hands and make a problem go away.

Tell the eternal what you are doing, or going to do, and that eternal is more likely to be interested in helping you Do The Thing. Just asking an eternal to “make the armies of the Empire more powerful” or “solve the problem of the Synod using mandates to annoy foreign nations” is almost certainly on a hiding to nothing – unless you already have a plan to do it yourself.

On a related note, we say “eternals are not gods” a lot and we really mean it. Eternals can do a lot, but they aren’t omnipotent. They’re much closer to being powerful magicians than they are to being divine spirits – and one of the reasons their aid usually  comes at a cost is because in terms of the narrative they are expending a lot of their own resources to achieve the things they do, even if that expenditure happens below the abstraction layer.

Be Prepared to Trade

We talk about this all the time, but eternals are characters and characters want things. Every eternal has its own schemes, its own interests, and definitely its own goals. No eternal is going to give you a freebie – and if they do then you can bet that freebie is cursed worse than a free frogurt with a variety of toppings. They’re always always going to want something in return that they consider to be of equal or greater value to what you are getting from them.

You don’t necessarily have to lay that out in the plenipotentiary, although it can help to get everyone on the same page. Saying something like “I want your help to defend Zenith against the Druj, and in return I am prepared to return the MacGuffin of Azimuth to you” will definitely help frame any resultant meeting and either pique the eternal’s interest or give us an avenue to explain why that offer isn’t quite right – but that if you instead agree to hunt out the Other MacGuffin of Azimuth as well we’ll be cooking with gas.

One of the most frustrating things about any exchange where the eternal (or indeed any non-player-character) says “What are you prepared to offer for this?” and the player-character says “What do you want?” Any negotiation – with an eternal or otherwise – is always going to go better if the player rocks up with some idea of what they are prepared to offer for the things they want.

Also, it’s almost always worth trying to negotiate with a non-player character. Sometimes the starting offer or request will be substantially higher than what they are prepared to accept in trade and a little discussion can bring it down. An eternal usually has a list of things they want in return for the things they’re offering – assuming you’ve told them what the meeting is going to be about in advance of course.

EDIT: On Facebook, James Goffin queried how you can prepare when you don’t know for sure what the eternals goals are. I think in this regard what might be useful is thinking about what tools you have.

“I can raise a senate motion”, “I can put forward a conclave declaration”, “I can influence the Synod”, “I can have someone assassinated”, “I can bring pressure to bear on the ambassador to Axos, who I know you’ve had problems with in the past”, “I can acquire my body weight in dragonbone”, “I can rustle up a coven who can perform powerful rituals no questions asked”.

Even if the specific thing you can do isn’t immediately useful, it will still give us an idea of the *kind* of thing you’re offering. Saying you can have someone killed means we’re likely to tilt the encounter in a different direction than if you said you could arrange for the Synod to interfere in something.

Nobody is Omniscient

This is another relatively minor point but it comes up more often than you might expect. We have reasonably good records of what is going on in the game, but they are by no means infallible. We send out dozens of non-player characters every event, and we’ve run (does quick maths) 28 events so far, some of them in pretty awful weather conditions and levels of stress. When you add sanctioned events and player backgrounds into the mix… sometimes we have no idea what you are talking about when you talk to an eternal.

When you’re talking about a specific incident, or chasing up a specific offer a herald has made, or looking into something a player has told you has happened, it’s really helpful if you can give us some context. It doesn’t have to be a lot – and most forms of contact with an eternal mean that you’ve got a limited number of words or letters to do it. But if you say something like “we want to talk about recompense for that time your herald attacked Bob” we may not know what incident you are referring to. Especially if it took place at a player event, or more than a couple of years ago at a main event, or is actually something that happened in someone’s background.

Adding a little detail like “during the last King’s Stoke Wassail” or “when Bob was a bairn” or “during the Summer solstice last year” will help immeasurably in tracking this kind of thing down and turning up to any meeting prepared to deal with the whole herald-stabbing-Bob incident.

This also applies when you’re speaking on behalf of someone else – which is something we absolutely want plenipotentiaries to be used for. If the point of your message is to get Bob into a room with an eternal or their lieutenant, the more context you can give us about why Bob wants to talk to that eternal, the better. I cannot stress enough how risky “Bob also wants to talk to you” is when it comes to getting a good response.

Let Us Do the Timetabling

This one is minor but it can lead to disappointment. Any kind of meeting with an eternal or their representative needs planning. There’s location, crew, special effects, make-up, and all sorts of other things to consider. We need eternal meetings to fit into the schedule the same as any other major piece of plot that needs multiple resources from the plot team.

You can by all means say “we need to meet before my execution at half six on saturday” and the eternal will bear that in mind. What you can’t do is say “I want the meeting at half seven on Friday” with any expectation you will definitely get a meeting at that point. We need to juggle a lot of variables, and we’ll tell you when any meeting is going to take place.

We’ll certainly bear your request in mind, but you need to manage your expectations.

It’s Not Just Plenipotentiary

While I’ve aimed these words at Archmages and their use of the plenipotentiary power, the guidelines here are appropriate to any sort of communication between a player character and a non-player character that takes place at one remove.

I see the same mistakes crop up over and over with Missive for Sadogua (LINK), for example, especially with correspondents not telling the eternal what they actually want. With any message to a non-player character, we have to weigh up any response in terms of what we think it will achieve. If someone sends a message saying “we must talk” it is very likely there won’t be any response, or at best the response will be a beermat with the words “what about?” written on it.

Likewise, it’s worth glancing over these guidelines if you’re planning to send a Call Winged Messenger to someone, especially in regards to the bits about knowing your audience, being clear about what you want, and being prepared to trade. Just as with a parley or other face-to-face meeting we’re much more likely to put a non-player character on the field when we know what any resulting encounter is going to be about, and where we can be confident the crewmember will have a proper brief for dealing with any discussions.

And Finally

I hope this hasn’t come across as too negative, and I also want to restate that these are just guidelines. Plenipotentiary – like any of our in-game communication methods – have any number of specific uses some of which we’ve never though of.

I think the key thing to remember is that at the end of the day we want the same thing you do – to provide a cool response, most likely a cool encounter, that moves the game forward in a cool way, and encourages as many as people to do things in the field and make significant choices.

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