Last year during the events I made a series of short video diaries for m’Patreon. The first one was less a video diary and more me looking very tired at the camera. I did however write up the event as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rambling blog post. Given we’re not able to run event one this year due to, you know, the collapse of civilisation, I thought I’d post it up here for people to have a read through.
Wednesday 24th – The Great Van Fiasco
Graeme Jamieson – Vice President in charge of Finance and Numbers – picked me up in his wee car around one-ish and we drove down to Preston. There were complex travel plans. He had already been on the road for something like eight hours (or however long it is it takes to get to Preston from The Back of Beyond). We did some minor prep work but mostly talked shite because its always a toss-up with a long car journey whether you’re going to be in the mood for work.
We got to site reasonably early, but unfortunately the other half of our “convoy” – Matt and Sam – did not. Instead the van that they were traveling in decided to break down in Bolton. Luckily all my bedding and such like were in the back of the car, because in the end Matt and a second van reached sight at around seven in the morning on Thursday.
Sam sensibly declined to wait up for the van, slept on a sofa, and got the train to Banbury instead. Because she is sensible like that.
The worst part of all this (from my point of view) was that the reason they were in Bolton was to pick up the new Bourse notes from the printer but thanks to an oversight the Weirwood and White Granite notes had had their leaf transposed. So while mithril was fine, the other two weren’t usable. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but the upshot is that we’ll need to launch the lovely new notes during Spring Equinox.
I also had no electricity, no internet, and no servers. So we got not further work done and had an early night.
Thursday 25th – Writing! So Much Writing!
Electricity was piped in nice and early – sparkies are excellent at their job. Server access soon followed. I then spent Thursday roughly the same way I’d spent the previous three weeks. Typing like a crazy man.
We’re very variable how we manage with finishing writing work before events. This time round a last-minute rewrite of something meant we lost a week we should have spent on Winds of Fortune, meaning they ran on an extra week, meaning that I was still writing in the field. It’s been a while since I had to do that and it is not fun.
Thursday was dedicated to pack stuff – responses to Winged Messengers, a massive ritual-text-come-plot-exposition-document, final details for curses and meta-effects, stuff like that.
In between all that additional writing there was an amount of talking to people I’ve not seen in eight months, “adding value” to other peoples’ tasks, and piling stuff up so I could find it when the event started.
Throughout the day I had several sudden attacks of “OMG ITS NEARLY TIME IN” because I am not used to being on site working on a Thursday – previously its always been my travel day. That was fun.
I was also a bit disappointed to discover we’d not gone with the Crew t-shirt slogan I thought we’d agreed on. We do a new crew t-shirt each year – a tradition that stretches back to Maelstrom and Odyssey days – and for Empire they have inspirational quotes about politics that also work for Empire roleplayers.
I’d been keen to have a quote from a non-man (we do a lot of Thomas Payne) and had persuaded Matt to use a quote from philosopher and philanthropist D. Parton (“Find our who you are and then do it on purpose”) following a very long discussion in which the ethics of making crew wear a t-shirt with an Ayn Rynd quote on (“Ask not who is going to let me do it, ask who is going to stop me”) were examined.
In the end we’d ended up with another Payne – which is fine – but a bit disappointed. There had been cold feet about whether some of our critics would be unhappy that our first quote from a woman in a while was from Dolly Parton rather than Simone de Beauvoir or someone similar. I think we made the wrong choice, but I’m not the one has to answer the angry e-mails.
There’s always next year.
We were a little late to bed because we had a final pass through Arcane Projections to do. As it always does it involved some last-minute changes to the status of certain projections. Most of the work here was Graeme and Matt – Matt in particular is called on to write the text a player receives if their arcane projection is a failure – but I still need to add value from time to time by writing rolepalying effects, or arguing finer points of the magic game design.
Bed around two.
Friday 26th – Ambassadors and Oh My God It’s Time In
I normally try to make sure the Ambassador briefs are done in plenty of time, but this time round – what with extensive imperial diplomatic stuff going on – they had to wait until late in the writing cycle. Meaning I was still putting finishing touches to them on Friday. This is never ideal.
I managed to get the last one finished and edited by Matt at about seven, which is an hour after time in obviously. It also left my nerves twanging like an evil banjo.
Irritatingly it was about this time we discovered we were very short on visions for Signs and Portents. The issue appears to have been that we changed how we collected them at some point during the run up to the event and then failed to disseminate that information sufficiently. It happens. Next event will be better.
I also had to brief the refs on the Wacky Circumstances for this event – specifically some options with magic and rituals we’d outlined in Winds of Fortune. About halfway through explaining one of them I realised Id made it far too complicated and felt bad. It passed, and the refs managed, but hopefully next time I’ll avoid the mistake I’d made there (too many nested effects tied to player identity and skill picks). And instead make a different one, obviously.
Writing out of the way, I helped with some briefing for one of the big encounters – big in terms of impact and prep work needed rather than numbers of crew involved. It meant helping to set up the four Ambassadors who were there for the anti-slavery summit to go to their cheese-and-golden-chocolate-balls meet-n-greet. I’d been fretting about this particular set of Non-player characters since around E3 last year but in the end we had four extremely solid crew – Stephen Kirkbride as Sarcophan (a role he was born to play), Bex Waring as the Commonwealth (she is a master of that rare non-player character skill of saying “no” and is excellent at in-character negotiations), veteran Tarantula/Flembic Jon Cole as the Sumaah (he is very good at having a kind of rock-hard confidence that players’ demands for mutuality just bounce off), and Sam Sutton for the little-dog-among-big-dogs from Axos (because she does a good line in opportunistic necromancers).
They went out to meet the players. We got a feel for how the next day’s summit might go. We chatted a lot about different approaches, red-lines, and how best to draw the player characters out so that it felt like a negotiation.
In between all that I did the two roles I needed to play that evening. Two plenipotentiaries in fact. Ira Harrah’s herald, and the Vizier of the Cassinean Empire for Basileus Flint. These were pretty much “talky” encounters – which is just as a well. Plenipotentiary parleys can sometimes be tech-heavy (tech here meaning magic items, boons, scrolls, and the like which are offered as boons). I quite enjoyed them in spite of myself even though I discovered that not only was I having an allergic reaction to the fur on my Vizier outfit, but also to one of the big pieces of cloth I had over my head for the Ira Harrah herald.
I got to bed about half one after some last-minute discussion regarding some of the encounters that were due the next day.
Saturday 27th – Running Around A Bit and Then Standing Still
Full day of encounters – organising the remaining three plenipotentiaries, consulting on a few of Matt’s encounters, offering assistance where required, handling the odd bit of on-the-spot writing and things like that. A typical Saturday during an event, basically.
Saturday starts with the field character meeting at nine o’clock when the egregores, civil service and plot writers all get together to give quick updates on how things are going. They take place in the Plot tent, and they’re usually a lot of fun. Clare Evans (its her department) pioneered them and runs them with a ruthless iron fist. It’s a good way for me to get a feel for how things are going, and lets the people who have all the player-character face time bring up concerns, share cool snippets with one another, and give an overview of what’s happening in their area. I make unhelpful jokes and answer questions where I can.
We had our first test of the new Swim Leviathan’s Depths rules, and it seemed to go well. I’m comfortable where we’ve ended up there – I think its good both for me and the players to know when they can talk to the Cosmic Party Whale.
The other big job I make time for through the day is variously called Constitutional Court or Scrutiny. This is when me, Matt, Graeme, and chief magistrate Jon Creek get together with one of the Senate civil servants (Harry or Amy) to go over submitted motions and do a spot evaluation to check for problems or answer questions. Due to Amy unfortunately being very ill indeed and having to go home, we had Harry for this which is always a nuanced pleasure. I can’t remember any blips.
The bulk of the day was supporting other plots. I’d rostered a chunk of the day off in case I needed to fill in for one of the ambassadors but there as no need, so around seven I kitted up and headed for Conclave.
Its Own Pocket Dimension Outside Space and Time
Conclave was good. It as also four hours and ten minutes long (James, the civil servant who runs it, counted every minute).
Earlier in the day the Hall of Worlds – where Conclave takes place – had been knocked over by the wind. The red cap team had it back up in a couple hours because they are heroes, but it meant it was about half the size it normally is. This meant it was a little cozy – but not painfully so.
The worst bit about it was, as always, the lack of seating. It’s better than it was, but as a fat man who will not see 40 again, standing for two hours was a challenge. I eventually managed to perch on the edge of a bench which improved things dramatically for the last two hours.
One of the reasons I was keen to be there was that after last event I’d made a few tweaks to how the discussion ran and wanted to see how they worked. I was broadly happy – the Candidacy discussions were still a little drawn out, but once they were out of the way the actual meat-and-veg business of conclave was extremely cool.
Conclave takes a long time, but I never felt that anything that was going on was a waste of time. There were all sorts of serious, in-character debates about all sorts of topics – the purpose of the sorcery declaration for example, or the potential threats of the eternals, or the controversies surrounding other parts of the Imperial machine’s involvement with foreign powers and the like. It was genuinely fascinating.
I imagine I had a different experience because I knew what was going on with 78% of what was happening, but it was pure politics.
Conclave, as I have said more than once, is my jam. If I were a player I would be rolling around in that jam like a giant wasp who is also a jam miner and has an unfortunate addiction to jam. It’s got a reasonably egalitarian feel – one magician one vote – and anyone with a bit of mana can add things to the agenda or get a grandmaster’s attention to speak on a topic.
The drama was even better than event one, with excellent theatrical grandstanding from Paul Fraine as the Spring Archmage, Solomon of the Shattered Tower (I think it was), Andre Tcherepnine as the deeply concerned Grandmaster of the Sevenfold Path, and adroit political points from what I think was Izzy Treveliane as the Grandmaster of the Celestial Arch and her order. Plus Phil Prior as Gregor, the Grandmaster of the Shuttered Lantern, giving a kind of subdued performance that would not have been out of place in a courtroom drama.
My jam, like I said.
Then there was some serious drama involving an Archmage, a virtue inquisitor, a very important document, and a major question of ethics. Not that that was allowed to interfere with the flow of Conclave. Nothing short of an attack by spider demons stops conclave these days.
It was, in short ace. For four hours, the tent set aside for Conclave became its own little microcosm of the game and I am very glad I went. I’m not saying that at some points I couldn’t remember a time I wasn’t in Conclave, but I’m still glad I went.
Next event however I will bring my own chair, something to drink, and some food. And maybe a radio, dammit.
Arrived back just in time to find out what had happened with the anti-slavery summit. There was a fascinating situation where the big anti-slaving-nations trade pact had definitely been formed but the Empire were not technically in it yet because the treaty had not been ratified. Potential for excitement next day was discussed, and we also looked over all the clauses with an eye towards how they could make game, whether there would be constitutional or legal issues, stuff like that.
Got to bed around two.
Sunday 27th – Ending on a High
Sunday started with the field characters meeting. Then knowing I had no Leviathan – because there were no outstanding questions on the system – meant I had plenty of extra time for last minute stuff.
I briefed up and sent out my last proper encounter of the event (Morgan and Bex as Faraden traders) and pegged it across the field to be tried for a crime I definitely committed.
Almoin Ostikis, the Asavean Architect was on trial for idolatry. He started out as a wind of fortune opportunity, then went into play as a person during the Summer Solstice event in 2018. He was basically me with an outrageous accent and 30-year-old GCSE French.
It was all quite civilised for criminal proceedings and the first time I’ve been involved as a non-player character in that area of the game. I caught the magistrates eating breakfast in a moment of unexpected verisimilitude. We then had a quiet trial – myself, the magistrate, and the prosecuting priest (Mike Kilburn). There was an outcome.
I enjoyed the experience, and got to see a magistrate operating. I’m glad we went the route we did right back at the start, in having non-player characters enforce a functioning (for live roleplaying) legal system. It involves lots of nuance it seems.
Then back across the field for scrutiny (via a surprise mini-encounter with a Joe-shaped priest of the League that made it very hard to keep my grumpy face as I stomped off site as Almodin). Then into my Leontes the Scribe kit again to make the final Senate session of the event.
Senate was great fun – Harry as the Speaker is always a joy to watch working the room. I read a newspaper in character and tried not to let on too obviously when I spotted a Senator lying, misrepresenting, or incorrectly stating things based on stuff I had written.
There was politics, and drama, and a Home for Goodest Doggoes, and then the big motion that I was interested in – the ratification of the anti-slavery treaty. Everyone was moved.
Then time out, and I left the field feeling good.
It never lasts – once the event is over the thousand-and-one things that didn’t work, or ruined peoples’ events, or just went less well than they might have begin to mount up and quickly leech any sense of achievement. But for a couple hours it was aaaaaall good.
Back to the Matt Cave, and nail down the barbarian orders. We’re always careful with this – its a job Matt, Graeme and I do in sketch form before the event then lock-in after time out in case anything has changed in the campaign since the start (normally battle outcomes). It normally falls to Matt and I, as Graeme knows what the players are doing by this point because he has their orders. This time Matt had accidentally learnt something about one of the fronts that meant I had to do them solo which is always a bit of a pain because I tend to swing wildly between CRUSH THEM ALL and WE CANNOT POSSIBLY WIN RUN AWAY depending entirely on my mood. But we managed it, then discussed likely outcomes for the various theatres based on Graeme’s subsequent overview of player action.
Depending on how takedown is going we either start writing up senate motion, synod judgements and conclave declarations or just hang out and talk shit. This time we lost the server early so it was the latter. Hearing stories about cool things people did or saw during the event, getting caught up on the battles, and planning follow-ons for next event.
Then the crew party and the obligatory bit where Matt tells everyone how great they are. I fell asleep immediately after tea and went to bed at around ten.
Monday 29th – Home Again Home Again Jiggety Jig
Now we’re back in the North, and getting a lift with Graeme, we leave early. I tore my office apart and threw it in bags and then we were off site by half nine or so which is definitely a new experience.
We stopped off to have lunch and watch a superhero movie (I cried) and arrived back in Cumbria around six or seven, ready for a day or two relaxing (and writing a brilliant quality short story in 24 hours for someone because of course I am) and then start prepping for the next event which is in … about 65 thousand hours as I write this.
That’s plenty of time, right?
The video – which I hope worked – was made immediately after Conclave as I got back to my desk in an empty office. I hope it works, I’m struggling with YouTube settings because luddite.
This piece first appeared on my Patreon on April 30th 2019.