As you read this I sit typing with one eye on the door expecting a squirrel to come in and shiv me at any moment. Empire is the new game from Profound Decisions. It started back in Easter and has a kind of a Game of Thrones vibe, but with less incest and added Orcs.
Now I would have put something up earlier, but bearing in mind the first event was so cold that my testicles are still sitting in the back of my throat, it seemed unfair to review it with weather that I genuinely thought at one point might kill me; and to be fair at the time it was so cold i wouldn’t have complained that much about dying. The site at Tournament Stud however seems to be possessed of a singular evil intelligence. Not only content with trying to freeze me to death at the first event, the second event it tried to drop rocket propelled tree branches on my head from the trees. I’m sure i saw a squirrel looking at me with evil intent too. I don’t sleep at Empire, I lay there waiting for the site to send it’s avatar to axe me to death in my tent. Event three i genuinely expect an evil dead style plant attack next time i go to the loo.
Right down to it, i really enjoy Empire. I really enjoy it. Now i pretty much hate everything that involves me having to deal with people i don’t know. Especially whilst trying to avoid the wrath of an ancient burial ground that i have some how offended. I got talked into going to Empire by a friend and spent weeks on the run up to it thinking how much i would hate the new thing even as i made armor. Now my friends had already decided to be part of the angry-people-in-the-woods-who-lost-their-empire-to plant-monsters-nation , to the point that they went on a survival course to get into character. I chose to listen to the London Calling while punching a potted plant instead.
So what is Empire? It’s set in a fantasy world where an Empire of ten nations are dealing with the loss of their Empress and leadership, they are surrounded on all sides by barbarians who want their stuff and it’s down to the players to save this empire, the nations, put themselves on the throne or whatever goals they set themselves. The Nations are led by senators that make laws in the senate, there are priests who debate religion, the Bourse where trade is run and of course the nations generals who decide on where and when to fight. Intriguingly all these roles are player based, there is no game team or ref running the nations or in charge of who gets what from the trade house. There is even a militia to keep the law, yep players again. This combined with a very well realised world background that is a little bit better than most modern fantasy literature, makes for an immersive game world. A good example of this world is religion. The religion is based around following virtues that allow you to reincarnate by passing through a spiritual labyrinth. There are no gods there is only theology, a that religion will not tolerate virtues out side of it’s own and believes the human soul is the only soul worth while. It’s central power base, the synod, has the power to remove people from positions of power and again is run by players. This is only one facet of the world and i’d encourage you to go to the Profound Decisions website and read the wiki. http://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/Main_Page. It’s really good. If there is one thing other companies could learn from PD is get a wiki for your background stuff. It’s a great way of getting all the info about a system out there. However other companies don’t have a site that wants to murder me.
The players in charge of stuff is very brave and it works well. Each camp has a radio to god in the form of the Egregores, people combined with the spirits of the nations. These were created with the start of the empire to ensure each nation kept it’s cultural identity. This is a really good conceit and works well. meaning that you have someone in camp who understands your culture, can answer questions without taking any power from the players hand. It also gives me someone to torment on a regular basis. The various organisations of the empire like the synod and senate have civil servants who ic deal with administrating votes, making legal judgments and the various mechanisms of running things. Again this is well done and well roleplayed. Also again i worry that they say things like ‘ah it’s you, i don’t need to check my list for you’, they maybe working with the site. The Egregores, Magistrates and Civil servants really bring the world to life.
The world background is well written with guides to each nation and how to make sure your character fits into the national archetype. So angry nation in the woods has tattoo’s but isn’t celtic or worship’s tree’s. Venitian mask wearing Nation may be into trade, but due to the virtues they aren’t money grabbing corrupt wankers. The briefs for the nations are really well written and have a real sense that the people writing them cared.
Visually the game is great, the national briefs mean you can spot someones nation based on their clothes, there is a senate building and tavern built on site and one Navarr group stopped being angry at bushes for five minutes to build a tree house. The Orcs however are a stand out, as a nation they look amazing. They are all wearing amazing Mandala masks, which are also used by the monster crew…but i will get to that. Now as a system that has big battles they have made sure that it looks good. Now my numbers may be wrong, but i believe they have 600 breast plates, arrows for monsters and very high quality Orc masks for half the site when they have a big battle! This doesn’t include the amazing monster kit for the big gribblies! However there is chance that some of those monsters were just the site stalking me. Also of note is the phys reps for coins and other resources, they are beautiful and look amazing. However i have noticed traders selling phys reps that look similar enough to the in game resources at night to con people.
Rules are something that i really don’t care about in LARP, however i suppose i should mention them. They are simple, they don’t intrude too much, work and I believe been designed to compliment the world and style of play. Everything works and functions. The priestly rites however will probably throw some people as they pretty much deal with placing role play effects on people to make them act in certain ways. They are very fluffy to the world and will come into their own when facing down entities that can do the same, but people used to priests healing and calling on gods need to get their head around how subtle the religion in Empire is. The Battles also work well, as they should do with Paul tucker working on them. At the moment the players are still finding their feet, trying to work out how to find their objectives and learning to work together, so it’s still a bit chaotic. The Battles are fun which is the important thing and the skirmishes are more than a fight, tending to have either some role play or something more than go and slot the big bad.
Now i have heard complaints about a lack of plot and things to do at times. One thing that did leap out is no one is going to pour game plot down your throat. You actually have to go out and find it.
You not going to get hit by camp attacks or wandering monsters as plot delivery systems. To be honest i like this rather than wandering monster a flail ineffectually at a gate guard with obvious plot nailed to it’s face. You can go to the toilet without being stabbed up. To get the most out of Empire you need to throw yourself into the world and play a character. If you think that you should have plot delivered too you all the time, your wrong. This is a game where the role play is just as important as the plot hovering and being a combat monkey. You may have to spend some time playing a character between stuff happening.
There is also enough player led plot you can stick your nose in if you need to get your fix of game.
So is there anything wrong with it? Yep of course there is. It can be a pain getting hold of a Ref to use skills sometimes and this can be jarring in the middle of some roleplay to have to go looking for a bumble bee to do the admin. At the first event my long suffering other half didn’t have a character card as the printers weren’t working. luckily she doesn’t have a med code or ended up unconscious anywhere. Event two God didn’t open until well after time in and of course the site is a locus for the forces of darkness summoning storms from beyond time and space. Things like the cards for religious rites i haven’t even seen to give to someone and the wiki which contains the rules can be hard to find everything you need or is in weird places. A good example of that is my missus took a pistol cross bow to the first event, it got passed by weapons check, she used it two handed and we came home, only for me to find in the FAQ that you can’t use pistol crossbows. To be honest though these are problems that will be fixed as they are mainly backroom stuff and when you try and so something with as much ambition as Empire stuff will go wrong on the admin side. Oh and fuck me if i hear the theme from game of thrones one more time i will beat someone to death with my cock.
So is it good, yes. Is it the greatest thing ever in LARP and will it fumble you to orgasm while raising the dead? Of course i t bloody wont, it’s a LARP. Will I stop playing ‘other systems’ to go to Empire? No, because i’m a LARPer not an xbox/ps3 fanboi who refuses to try something new because it might destroy the self worth they gain by being a narrow minded fucktard.