Writing an LRP game is hard. Not just trying to do mental arithmetic whilst people shout random numbers hard, and not even trying to juggle whilst riding a skateboard hard (which I can confirm from experience is very hard). But really, truly, properly hard. You can make it a bit easier by getting a lot of talented people together to help. You can try to compartmentalise and break down the tasks. But whilst it makes it easier, it remains a hard endeavour. With that in mind, I can only imagine how many extra degrees of hard Empire was to create. I can imagine Matt announcing "We're going to have a senate-based political game; a mage based "ARS magica tribunal" game; a believable living religion game; a mercantile trading game; a crafting game; massive battles; 9(+1) nations; 6 lineages; real IC buildings; IC streetlighting and we're going to do it for over 1500 players". I can also imagine the combination of hilarity, disbelief and terror that it would have engendered in his co-conspirators.
So, the real question is... did it work? Well... mostly.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I only managed half of the first event. I'd promised my family some time with them at Easter, and so I left first thing on Sunday morning. So criticisms and the like should be taken with a pinch of salt. Still I wasn't idle at all in that time, and did my best to poke my in character nose into everything I could.
Ambition is a virtue, or so we are told by the Way, Empire's religion. Along with Pride, Loyalty, Wisdom, Prosperity, Vigilance and Courage. And certainly there was monumental ambition in PD's new game. I have never seen such detail in any setting, for anything. Not film nor TV, book nor game. The influences are diverse, with literary tributes in spades, as well as lessons learned and ideas drawn from previous LRP games. I detected the influence of Grand Designs and NWO as well as previous PD games. The wiki runs to hundreds of thousands of words and covers everything from the rules about fighting, to the magical traditions of the nations. It's scale seems to dwarf Tolkien's canon, Martin's Westeros lore and it's more voluminous than the Bible! But detail is a double edged sword. Whilst many will draw inspiration from it, others will use their knowledge of canon as a stick with which to beat those who disagree with them. For every person engaged and delighted by the depth and richness of setting, there will be those who are intimidated. The Empire wiki is hampered by the lack of a decent index, which leaves even the keen floundering somewhat when trying to find things. Sure the search function is ok, but it's far from perfect and with the volume of info that can be a problem.
This awe and confusion at the sheer scale of things carried over into the event, with many people struggling a little to get to grips with the sheer quantity of detail and procedure in the Empire. The lack of crew in NPC civil service roles (due, I understand to a lack of crew available generally as they were off doing other things - like trying to make the site less of a quagmire) meant that IC questions around the important institutions required a fairly lengthy search to find an answer to. The sterling work being done in the civil service room of the Senate was welcome, but not everyone knew to look there, and there were no roving points of information to direct them there. Any timetable that there was for meetings and institutional elections was not communicated to those wishing to participate, and led to some disappointment and a lot of confusion. Better lines of communication to the players should have been put in place, and when things started to slip, the players should have been kept informed. I appreciate that it was an IC time of confusion in the Empire, but it was OOC annoying to be constantly kept in the dark about timings and formats.
Much of the problem came from the weather. No one could have predicted the scale of the cold this March, and so I'm guessing few plans were in place for if there was still snow on the ground in the week leading up to the event. The site was alternately frozen and a quagmire. Consequently it seemed that most of the crew were involved in trying to get the site fixed, rather than their anticipated jobs. It was clear, when turning up Thursday, that the site would not be ready for the Friday time in, and it's a tribute to every single crew member that the game even started Friday at all. The players took it in good grace, and the hard work that went into transforming the site was testament to a thoroughly professional job from the volunteers.
And what a stunning site! Really real IC buildings kick quantities of ass. IC tents as far as the eye could see, stockades and treehouses, stone circles and portals, IC traders, uncle tom cobley and all. And it was matched by the effort and endeavour that the players had gone to with their kit and costume. Truly this was a step up from anything I've ever been to before. Beautiful costumes throughout, with time care and effort oozing from almost every one. Many of the units looked the business, and it was exceptional to be able to identify nations just by looking. The campsites had IC cooking happening, woodworking, crafts and arts, I even saw some fellow carrying a dead pheasant to be hung in his camp. PD's phys reps for resources are gorgeous, and the money is just stunning. A very beautiful game.
The roleplaying was good too. Virtually no OOC comments, no one taking my somewhat direct and blunt character too personally and a very high level of play throughout. I met many interesting characters who intrigued, amused and sometimes scared me. Very impressive indeed. It was especially nice to see the Orc players stepping away from the traditional tolkien or GW orcs and into something new and different. I was very impressed.
I was disappointed to hear that there were issues with accessibility for some disabled players, but I have no doubt that PD will take the feedback and make sure that side of things doesn't cause problems next time.I didn't participate in any of the battles, but I heard nothing but good things from those coming back from Saturday morning's battle, and the losses suggest that it was a pretty hard fight. The feedback I heard about the smaller skirmishes was also universally positive. The pacing of "plot" sent out via NPC was a little variable. Friday night there were times when we sat in our camp and wondered what to do (we solved it by going and causing trouble), and on Saturday night all the Heralds of the Eternals seemed to be everywhere (but wherever I was at the time!) and there was no time for anything but running around.
Personally, my game was enhanced no end by my group, the Circle of Zulgan Tash in Varushka. Primarily a group of Volhovs with associated help, we meddled and messed with anything that came our way, and were rude to anything that crossed us. Every one of them was awesome, and the combined quantity of mischief was impressive. We also were fortunate with our choice of nation. Not only were the other Varushkans much fun, but the feel of the camp was unique. I've never been in a camp where the atmosphere was quite like the Varushkan camp. Everyone had bought into the nation brief. Take a bow each and every one of you.
GOD and the refs were great each time I had to interact with them too. I was dreading getting my character pack, and doubly so once I realised that I would have to queue twice... once for my PID and then for my pack. But the queues were so well organised that I need not have worried. It took less than 30 minutes from start to finish, which in my mind is a win. The two refs I used, were both friendly and helpful, and I was especially impressed with the management of rituals. Very good.
It speaks volumes, really, that I didn't want to leave on Sunday morning. I was missing my wife and daughter a lot by then, but the game had hold, and I wished that somehow I could split in two and do both. But, I am booked for the next event, and will be at the September one as well, all things being equal.
If PD can build on this, learn the lessons from this event, and catch a break from the weather gods, then they are onto a winner, I reckon. Pacing will improve; players will come to understand the IC institutions and brilliant kit will become sublime as we all aspire to be better.