Marshalling Fields

There is an update on the wiki with the new page for the Field Marshal (profounddecisions.co.uk/empi … ld_Marshal), the position the Military Council elect to take command for each battle. Obviously there are some changes here, mostly in terms of what has played out in the field weighed against what was on the wiki, I thought I’d try and talk through some of the thinking that underlies that clarification.

The first point is a mea culpea that the wiki was so ambiguous in the first place. The previous text for the “field commander” was no more than a few lines, it implied being in command, but didn’t specify any legal support for that. When you looked elsewhere on the wiki, there was chunks of writing that flatly contradicted a legal obligation to follow a chain-of-command; the notes on the Constitution about how an army must be led by one of their own nation and the complete absence of any laws regarding the issue. The simple truth is that it was so vague because when it was written, no-one was quite sure how it would work.

Obviously nature abhors a vacuum and each individual player – and NPC filled in their own explanation to fill the gaps. That would be fine if all the details filled out matched. The Military Council mostly made the perfectly reasonable assumption that the position had the power of command – that the commander could simply give out orders and that had to be followed. Other players took the equally valid interpretation that the absence of any laws saying they had to follow orders, meant they didn’t have to. In short it was a pretty dire mess, and frustratingly it was pretty clear that whatever ruling ended up being applied, it was going to upset half the players involved.

Obviously it’s frustrating for the players to deal with something like this – where PD has to step in and make a ruling one way or the other – but it’s important to stress that it’s not something we like doing either. Fixing a mistake like this is a clear admission of failure, it’s something we didn’t notice was broken when we wrote the game. If we could have left it alone we would have done, but when half the players believe one thing and half the players believe another, that’s just not an option. We have to grasp the nettle, own up to the mistake, make a ruling… and disappoint someone.

To make the decision we want back to the basic design template for the game. Doing that it’s very clear that the game is predicated on the notion that “heroes” don’t get given orders. If you look at the powers of The Throne – the thing you notice about the section where they get to tell people what to do – is that it isn’t there… An Empress is powerful – very powerful, but she can’t just order people around. The game design starts from the premise that a game where the powerful are first among equals is a lot more enjoyable for all parties than one where any individual can order other characters around.

The problems that come in a PvP political game when characters are able to order other characters around are significant. If I order you to charge the orc line by yourself do you legally have to do it? If I stand by the Sentinel Gate and order you to hand over all your potions and magic items do you have to do it? If you’re a non-combatant… can I order you through the Sentinel Gate to fight? Many of our players would assume that the answer to at least some of these question was “no”. The question becomes how we turn that element of “reasonable judgement” into something that forms a part of the game.

The legal system is really not well set up for handling this kind of judgement. The NPCs try to work to a simple set of laws, and decide whether a character broke them or not. There is a flexible element to the sentencing – based on pleas of virtue from the priest. But that is a far cry from an individual NPC having to judge on whether one PC’s order to another was reasonable. Magistrates being forced to try and make decisions on what was strategically and tactically valid – based on a battle they weren’t at – was not going to end happily for players or organizers.

There is a group in the game though who are perfectly suited for making these kind of value judgements – namely other players. Other players don’t have to strive to be politically neutral, they don’t have to try and be fair or impartial, they don’t have to try not to be judgemental. Groups like the Synod have powers like revocation and excommunication precisely so that they can be judgemental. They can weigh up whether someone’s actions were reasonable or not - and act on that.

Hence the latest update. Our expectation is that the Field Marshal appointed by the Military Council will take command on the battlefield. He or she will issue orders to the Imperial generals and from there to the volunteers who take the field. And – just as at the moment – some characters will choose to disobey those orders or ignore them. The fact that the Field Marshal can’t have them legally prosecuted for that – doesn’t diminish the fact that he can have them excoriated for it. Being unvirtuous isn’t a crime – but the Synod can still punish you for it. Using magic on someone isn’t a crime – but you can still be declared a sorcerer.

The Field Marshal doesn’t have the legal system to throw against a citizen who disobeys them, but they are far from powerless. The Field Marshal is selected by the Military council, a slight against them is a slight against the Council. Individuals, groups, or nations that disdain the Military Council and their attempt to fight the Empire’s battles are taking enormous risks. No nation can survive for long against the barbarian threat without the Military Council to protect it – we would expect a nation that becomes a pariah in the view of the Council to suffer accordingly – and ultimately to get wiped out if they continue down that line. But how far and how fast down that line the players go – is down to the players.

The IC explanation for the clarification is that the magistrates have consulted their records and their laws, following the time of crisis and discovered that while it is traditional for individuals to follow the orders of their generals and the generals of their field commanders, there is no legal requirement to do so. So IC, a civil servant did it – OOC, obviously this is a mistake by PD – we simply didn’t get the setting perfect on the first pass and this is one of the mistakes we’ve had to clean up as player actions have brought it to light.

Our hope is that less will change in play than might be feared. Those nations that want to follow the sensible orders of their generals will continue to do so – and they will win the support and backing of the Military Council they support in turn. Those nations that want to cut a more independent path will continue to do so – and ultimately they will suffer as a result of those IC actions – in proportion to how those actions are judged.

OOC we want players to have raging arguments about whether orders were reasonable, whether a field commander was a fool or a legion were disloyal. We want the Synod to denounce, revoke and excommunicate those whose actions harm the Empire. We just don’t want our NPCs acting as judge and juror for those deliberations – we want the players to do that!