We’ve had a couple of emails recently asking about vines, so I thought it would be useful to do a quick post talking about archetypes, what they are, and why you can’t pick vine in a dropdown in the character creation menu. It’s a long post - so the summary is first!
Vines are not currently an archetype in Navarr, even though they are widely discussed at Anvil. If the players want them to be widely acknowledged across the nation so that they become an accepted part of the brief then there are a number of challenges that they’ll have to overcome in play first.
In Empire, archetypes represent social roles that exist in a culture in a way that is widespread throughout a nation. They were a fairly new idea for us when we were writing Empire and some of the writing is a little hit and miss because it was an idea we were developing as we went along. But essentially archetypes represent a social niche in the world - more than just “a job description” - they’re a set of attitudes and expectations all wrapped up in one.
A good example of a solid archetype is the Wintermark grimnir. The wiki says that grimnir are “Wintermarkers who have dedicated themselves to the healing arts.” In theory that’s just a Wintermark name for healer then? Except that the wiki also says that Grimnir swear oaths to foreswear partaking in battle - in essence, they give up the opportunity to be the big I AM on the battlefield - and that essential sacrifice (and in Wintermark eyes giving that up is a big sacrifice) is noted and respected by everyone else in the nation. The grimnir becomes a hero - and is treated as one - precisely because they choose to do something that might otherwise be overlooked in a nation that lionizes heroism.
You can absolutely play a healer in Wintermark who is not a grimnir. That’s a perfectly sound characterisation - and helps to make grimnir cooler. After-all if there are some warriors who plunge into battle and get their fight on - and then help out healing wounds afterwards then that just makes the sacrifice of the grimnir all the more meaningful. You can play a grimnir who is a magician, of a physician. You could probably play one who was an artisan or a trader with a bit of effort and a good plan. What makes the grimnir archetype meaningful is that it is embedded in the wider social fabric of Wintermark society. Everyone knows what one is, everyone knows what they do. If you say you are grimnir then people know, without asking, something meaningful about you.
You can’t play a grimnir who gets stuck into battle and fights with the other warriors. That literally makes no sense - because grimnir are healers who don’t fight. That concept defines what they are.
When I say “people” then I really mean anyone who has read that bit of the wiki… Obviously, if you haven’t read the Wintermark brief - then you won’t know what a grimnir is. That’s cool for most characters - why would a League character know what a grimnir was - especially if they weren’t the kind of metropolitan character who had been to Anvil loads of times before? It’s more tricky if you’re playing a Wintermark character - but Wintermark is a big place… I’m British but I don’t know everything there is to know about being British! As Eddie Izzard said - “Some people are widely read… I’m thinly read, I’ve read fuck all”.
The wiki represents our description of the wider setting - the descriptions of Wintermark represent a best attempt to define the many hundreds of thousands of people who live in Wintermark. We encourage people who are coming to Empire for the first time to read the basic wiki pages for their nation so that they know the culture they’re from. That helps them make characters that reflect their background and arms them with the knowledge they need to have meaningful conversations with other characters. If something is on the wiki for Dawn - then you know it’s true for “the nation of Dawn”.
But that doesn’t tell you anything at all about the Dawnish PCs who attend Empire. Players make their own characters - we do a rough check of backgrounds to ensure they’re factually consistent with the setting - but nothing beyond that. It’s neither practical nor desirable for us to be continually updating the wiki to try and convert it from being a description of “the nation” into “the gross of people who turn up to Anvil four times a year to run the country”. We’d be constantly chasing our tails and for something of no value at all.
Crucially the point is that Marcher players can change the nature of what Marcher players at Anvil believe at any time they want. The Marcher players can decide that hard work is futile and silly and rich powerful people like themselves should pay other people to do the work for them and anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. But 150 Marchers at Anvil deciding that - doesn’t change the way 1,500,000 Marchers who live in the Empire think or feel. The wiki isn’t attempting to tell you about people at Anvil - it’s telling you what the nation thinks.
That can cause some cognitive dissonance - people understandably expect everyone else to be following the brief. But actual live roleplayers play living breathing characters that develop over time as our characters grow - so we’re all departing from the brief to a greater or lesser extent all the time. We have neither the inclination nor the time to track those changes.
What we will do is update the wiki when historical events change the nation’s history, or when the actions of the PCs are so significant that they cause widespread cultural ramifications that change a nation’s culture. The Marchers at Anvil might decide hard work is for the birds - but that doesn’t change the wiki. But if the Marchers at Anvil used the Synod and other tools at their disposal then they could take actions that would affect hundreds of thousands of Marchers across the Empire. And that could be reflected on the wiki.
Such changes are not easy. Culture is hard to shift in the real world, let alone in a world with egregores providing magic glue to keep it static. Let me know the last time you listened to a real-world politician giving a speech about whatever the issue of the day was and as a direct result you thought “Gosh - they’re completely right! I’m going to completely rethink my values and change my life decisions as a result of that speech.” …I’ll wait. Change is hard.
And in Empire change is expensive. That’s not because Andy and I are lazy and don’t like writing wiki pages. I mean we are - but we love writing. I’ve just knocked off a couple of thousand words because today is Sunday and I’m bored… but change is expensive by design. It’s intentional.
That’s because we’re playing a live roleplaying game - and the point of the game is to strive. I’ll let you into a little secret about Empire. I’m one of the game designers and I have no clue how this game ends. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t know when it will get there, I don’t know what will happen when it does. I don’t know. And if I had a crystal ball and could look 10 or 20 years into the future… I hope I’d have the willpower not to look. It doesn’t make a book more fun to read if you flick to the ending first…
Empire is NOT about the ending - it’s about the journey. It’s not about where you going, it’s about what happens on the way. It’s not about where you end up, it’s about who you met while you were going there. It’s about striving - it’s about facing hardship and finding ways to overcome that.
So loads of stuff in Empire is deliberately hard by design. I mean it wouldn’t be difficult for us to make it easy for the Empire to beat the Orcs. We could have made that very easy for you all. But I doubt many people who like Empire would think the game would have been better as a result. It’s hard to beat the orcs by design. It’s hard to do loads of things in Empire - deliberately so - so that to achieve those things you have to strive. You have to work hard, you have to make sacrifices, you have to overcome difficulties. These are the things of which great stories are made.
Changing the world is well up there. It can be done - you can convince a nation to outlaw slavery - you can convince 1/3rd of Highguard to abandon their home and go on a great pilgrimage - you can lead a schism in your faith. But it’s difficult and it’s expensive - and it comes at great sacrifice. You can’t change the Empire world simply by convincing everyone at anvil that the world has changed. It’s harder than that - a lot harder - and it’s painful.
And that’s why vines aren’t on the wiki! It’s super-cool that the Navarr players at Anvil want to create a cool new archetype that takes the role of healer and gives it a unique social status and role in society - that puts limitations on what a vine can do, or how they act, or who can be one (An archetype has to be much more than “just a healer” because the Navarr already have a word for a healer and that word is “healer”). That sort of world-changing event is exactly what Empire is about as a game - but you’re attempting to do one of the most difficult things in the game (change the world) and you’d better believe that doing it will be hugely expensive and difficult!
At the moment very few Navarr outside Anvil know what the vines are - or care. It’s a thing that some Navarr at Anvil came up with - it’s as meaningful to the average Navarr as the Bilderberg Group is to the average American. They don’t really know much about it - and they have no reason to care. Most Navarr have never heard of vines - so they’re not on the wiki. If you come to Anvil and they say “Have you heard of the vines” then the “correct” campaign response is “No - I’ve never been to Anvil before - tell me more”. Now it’s perfectly fine to play someone who has heard of the vines - maybe your character’s best friend has told you all about them. But every person creating a new character in the Navarr can legitimately be finding out about them for the first time.
So vines aren’t on the wiki - because they’re an Anvil thing not a “Navarr” thing. And they’re not an option in character creation because it’s not something that exists in the wider setting yet. That’s not set in stone - it could change. As I said, the world changes and responds to what the players do. But it takes more than just “agreement” - you need to seize the moment (which requires waiting until the moment exists, or making the moment happen).
And you can bet that if the moment comes, then it will demand a high price. Higher than you want to pay - otherwise we go our job wrong. “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” - Thomas Paine said that. You can learn a lot about my game design ideas by reading a few cheap Thomas Paine quotes on Wikiquote…
For the vines to become relevant across the Navarr nation, would need many things - there would need to be a clearly elucidated definition of what a vine was that was much more than “just a healer” and which had been communicated to the nation as a whole. And that thing would need to be meaningful in some way to those people, it would need to catch the imagination of the wider nation and come at a point where it made clear sense to accept this dramatic new change. That is not guaranteed to happen - but it could do at some point - and if it does then it will come at great cost (just as most changes in Empire do) so that whether or not the Navarr want to do it becomes a thing to be roleplayed about.
Seeking to create an archetype is a cool in-character agenda. Precisely because it is a legitimate in-character goal that means it’s not something to be advanced on Facebook or social media! Likewise, you don’t need to email Profound Decisions us about your plans - all the levers you need to change the setting exist in the game for players to pull. So by all means discuss the game or this post - but please don’t post your own ideas about what vines are or what they should be on social media. That is something to be discussed and argued over in-character in Empire. One day soon we’ll all be back in a field and then people can argue over the vines to their heart’s content!