How long will Empire last?


A wizzard did it?



Maelstrom was billed as a game of exploration and discovery, and so had a game culture of secrets and mysteries. It was hard to talk about because people would clam up OOC because they were afraid of their IC secrets being leaked. The watchword was FOIP: Find Out In Play - the idea that everything about the game should be discovered in play. Empire has its mysteries and secrets, but to a much smaller extent. See the amount of information on the public wiki, for a start!

I came into Maelstrom about half way through, but I was already a LARPer when it started so I was aware of it right from the start. I read the initial marketing/promo material and couldn’t see where I would have fun in the game. It seemed very sandboxy and I prefer games which are more story-driven and action-oriented. However over the years I heard a lot of people talking about how great it was so I gave it a go. Honestly I never really got into it: I just couldn’t find enough to get involved with that I had access to. I went to seven or eight events across three years so I gave it a good try. I remember the Downtime system being hugely overimportant - I felt no-one cared what happened on the field (and I still doubt much ever did) so long as you submitted your downtime in good time.

I don’t have access to the numbers, but it sounds like Maelstrom’s player base dwindled away over the years. Empire doesn’t quite feel the same. I can still see aspects of things that frustrated me about Maelstrom, but to nowhere near the same extent. (My experience of Empire is only broadly positive, there’s a lot I struggle to “get”) So I don’t see Empire driving players away the same way Maelstrom did. I don’t know what the minimum number of players to make the game viable is, but I suspect Empire is way, way above it.

I do remember being in one of the “focus group” / very early preview groups when the game that would be Empire was still being formed. Matt P and some of the other PD team did a tour of the country speaking to local LARPers about what they liked in LARP and previewing the new game. I asked what the expected size of the game would be and Matt said something like ideally 800 players. I believe the first event was easily twice that.



As far as I know, the very first event had over 2000 people on the field (this being at the Tournament stud site).

The weather was awful (this was the -10 degrees and knee deep mud event…) and IC confusion resulted in the battles being brutal (PC deaths in the dozens, at least).

And of course, there were a lot of people who tried it, went “nope, not for me”, and left. So numbers dropped for an event or two, and then started to climb.

It’s only in the last year that the numbers of playing characters have risen above 2000 again, I think. Due to some excellent publicity online and word of mouth, coupled with good field organisation.

(And yeah, Maelstrom was a pig to get into and understand. The importance of downtime was such that PD sold downtime tickets, so folks who couldn’t or weren’t interested in getting to the event could send in downtime. Play-by-mail LARP…Interesting, but really not my thing)



I thought the main purpose of downtime tickets was so that if someone temporarily could not attend, they didn’t lose out on downtime actions like gaining skills. Empire has mitigated this by giving XP for the 1st and 3rd event you attend each year, so missing one doesn’t mean missing XP.



Yes, but you could use the downtime for anything, like teaching, crafting, building forests, nuking forest zones into swamps (ahem) so you could have an uptime impact and affect others with your downtime actions.

I do not miss the hideous spreadsheet game. Empire is much much better.



I’m not actually sure why people paid for the pain of having to interact with the Maelstrom downtime system. You would have to pay me to do it again.

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Mostly Social responsibility I think. For a lot of people, the problem became that if you didn’t get your DT in, all your resources did nothing for a season, and potentially degraded.

There was absolute chaos in the Malathian colony for a few seasons because the player who was next in line to be governor didn’t turn up. Similarly farm owners who didn’t go to an event could suddenly cripple a colony’s food output. Armies would stand around looking curiously at the world around them etc.

Going back to the original topic Maelstrom had a slow but inevitable power creep and several very clear “this is going to end the world as we know it if we aren’t careful” scenarios. Both of those led to the game clearly escalating to an end point. By comparison Empire is much more stable, the system is less lethal there’s less power imbalance between the players and PvP is a lot subtler.

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Until a gigantic nation vs nation occurs or Wintermark go on a rampage and try to murder everyone, then everyone will pool resources and curse their lands until the end of time thoroughly screwing them



Maelstrom didn’t feel like it ended because players pressed world-ending buttons. It felt like the world-ending buttons were wired in because PD was planning to end the game. I remember the Time of Destruction plot drops and that was definitely a thing that appeared at an event just after a long winter break (i.e. lots of time for PD to write the system-ending plotdrops) and as far as I know was not created by player action. Well, it might have been IC created by the slow grinding away at the world, but that could have been as fast or slow as PD wanted it to be. It having reached tipping point then rather than 5,10, 20 years later felt like PD’s choice rather than an inevitable consequence of things on the field.

From then onward skill progression got silly, but that felt like a last hurrah for a dying game rather something the game was ending as a result of.

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Brilliant news - love you all

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My impression was that PD ended Maelstrom because it had got to the point where the game system itself was discouraging new players, which of course was resulting in lower headcounts. PD is a business, and I would expect Empire to end if it reaches a point where the player base is in consistent decline. My uninformed understanding is that numbers per event are still increasing, so I’m not expecting an end any time soon.



Sounds likely. No sensible business are going to wire in game-ending buttons to a game which is still bringing in as good a profit as they can hope for.

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What’s a game-ending button? Does it cause some kind of apocalypse? That might be a fun finale at least



Apparently one of the last games had a button that just ended the game. A player found it an pressed it and the game ended. I don’t know much more than that as I wasn’t there but I spoke to someone who was.



Oh ok, thanks. I thought you meant like a metaphorical button XD. Like if you awake the dinosaur monster it’ll destroy everything unless somebody manages to stop it, or whatever

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Maelstrom was much more about the discovery, how the world worked, what was out there, what was possible. There were powerful powerful rituals that threatened to drop half the continent into the ocean, there were dark machinations to tear down the fabric of reality, there was armed native uprising and many others. it was a game that many ways of bringing about the end times written into the setting (at least by that time).

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That’s right: there were several things of that sort. Magma krakens, for example.
(The uprising that Ricohard mentioned was not one of them though: that was just normal strife between groups of player-characters.)

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I always thought that Maelstroms rules worked for like 600-700 players.
The amount of tear-lammies (Like Empire Potions and Traumatic wounds) was insane, and each one needed to be laminated not to mention the coinage for different currencies and the sheer amount of different tradable things. There was also the Prayer system which is good for Plot to have a decent idea as to whats happening on the field, but can’t even imagine how much of a logistical challenge it was.

I also felt that the player progression system caused people to be a lot more cautious than they are now in an ironically more dangerous system.
Reason being - a 5-year, 20 event character may have developed to a fairly decent point if they were smart with their downtimes.
So although you have a super-hitpointed warrior with Triple through on any weapon and breathing dragon-fire… They’d be hesitant to take the field in case they died and lost all their accumulated points.

This has been solved in Empire, where you can roll a decent off-the-boat character if you focus on a single skill track, plus the slow accumulation of points that can be carried over. So if you sit on them you don’t feel obliged to spend them - In fact, it can be seen as in investment for future characters, but again - no obligation to spend.

There are parts of Maelstrom I miss - I kindof like the direct rivalry between the nations, I thought the Dragons and Draconian setup was a great mechanic, and I really enjoyed the Eidolon game. I also miss some of the things that people had spent so long building - Like the Jade Lotus IC noodle bar, the Tea house, and the grimy half-hidden ‘Lower city’.
On the other hand, I’m happy that I don’t need to be fully armed to go to the loo for fear of being stabbed, I thought there were far too many role-play only drugs (with no mechanical effect) and honestly the amount of sex references got old pretty quickly - Why did Catemite need to make you horny?

But yeah, I think Maelstrom just got too big for what the game was designed for, which is not a bad thing.
I think Empire is able to go for a lot longer as the mechanics do allow for it. Even if the economy goes pop, that in itself would create game, and shake a lot of things up.



I think it isn’t a question of IF the economy goes pop, it’s a question of WHEN. It’s a pretty realistic economic, and they always have boom bust cycles.

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How could the economy suffer a crash though if it lacks the things which normally lead to a crash, like a stock exchange. A stock exchange means that a country’s businesses can get more investment than they are worth simply because those are the companies everyone is investing in, until some actual investors realise what’s going on and start selling out and… it pops. With older economies though it usually took a plague, war or other natural disaster to cause an economy to fall on its face, and even then more slowly.