Building Sandcastles On the Beaches Of Hell:
An alternative playstyle guide to Empire
Thanks to PD recently, we’ve got some great guides to antagonistic and plot-focused playstyles, but what if that’s not your particular flavour of fun? Not everyone wants to play someone straight out of a George R R Martin tragedy spiral. Empire is a great game for a new player to show up to and enjoy the rich backdrop of blazing rivalries, great victories, doomed heroes and inadvisable deals. That sort of thing adds real flavour and tension to a quieter or less mayhem-filled playstyle. Just think why there are so many famous romance novels set during wars, for example.
Think of Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster, Inara Serra from Firefly, Mac from the Dresden Files, Scotty from Star Trek. Characters that are there providing support or putting out fires. They’d be a lot less interesting without the chaos to be the voice of reason in. So here’s my advice based roughly on the sorts of PCs I like playing. You have my encouragement to ignore the hell out of it where it sounds boring to you.
Back when I played Odyssey, there was a feeling that player groups were characters in themselves. PCs died a lot in that game, but groups lived on and their stories kept being told. Here at Empire, we have the Empire itself as our “character” in a way. Something all our PCs have a stake in, and under constant threat. It’s a bit of a novelty at a large LRP to have a higher cause that’s present everywhere, without other player factions to compete with. And let’s face it, succeeding in the face of the inevitable PC-inflicted mayhem is fun. I certainly think that “hauling the Empire out of the flaming dumpster it was in at the first ever event” is a challenging and exciting game.
“Rule Zero: You are here to have fun”
You are here to have fun. This is the reason you showed up to Empire. You have no duty to make a particular flavour of game happen. You are not obligated to continue with a any sort of roleplay, Plot or otherwise, if it’s becoming Not Fun. It’s no fun for you and bored, grouchy players are not entertaining PvP opposition. For example, I quit doing battles because they had a substantial chance of being less fun than spending the morning scheming.
I usually have sufficient schemes on the go at once that I can drop them if they get boring, frustrating, or they become a hill I don’t want the PC to die on. Roll the dice because the prize looks shiny, not just because some dice showed up.
“Know which hill your PC would die on”
Even the fluffiest PC needs a berzerk button, or a line they simply won’t cross. A great example was last event where a much-loathed and controversial priest got punched by a fluffy unarmed apothecary. Your last resort doesn’t have to be violence though. It can be a blazing rant at the right time, cursing, political attacks, calling in favours etc. It’s one thing for Firebrand McFirebrand III to try and excommunicate a PC. It’s another for the kindly, quiet friar to totally lose his shit and decide to ruin someone. The less you do it, the more shocking the impact.
I will freely admit that LRP, to me, is kind of like gambling. I’ve spent money and time on kit, writings and pursuing character goals . These things are my stake, and I’m putting them on the line trying to win Tasty Story.
Make the thing your PC is willing to die for be the thing where you see a lot of fun whatever the outcome. I find that going to an event over-reliant on I NEED TO DO THIS ONE THING is a massive killer of keen if I don’t feel up to it. Your character is a tool to provide yourself enjoyment. It’s okay to want to preserve that story at the cost of a narrative you’re insufficiently excited by. It’s up to other players and plot writers to sell you on their story being an awesome gamble.
“Push your luck, but on your own terms”
I will sometimes try to use my character’s reputation for way more than it’s good for, or take a big risk on the battlefield if I’m playing a combat PC. I’m not doing it to lose, I’m doing it because I reckon I’ve got a chance to pull off something really cool. I’m all about rebuilding the odd burned bridge, and tales of determined survival or narrow escape. Eventually it’ll kill the PC, but that’s a result of the odds, rather than a desire to drive off a particular cliff.
“It’s Okay To Be Subtle”
I find it more fun to engage with a bunch of PCs who all have one moderately unreasonable opinion or demand than to constantly bash my head against Large Hams who cannot be persuaded. As trying to negotiate, bribe and threaten my way to something that works is more my Empire jam than “okay let’s hurry up and crush the antagonist of the week so we can get back to the show”.