Is there anything that is required to know off by heart, other than your characters personal details?
I’d probably say the 5 things for your nation (You don’t need to quote them but you should have a really good concept of them.), probably how your skills work*.
If you plan to go into combat, the combat rules
*Although many artisans, apothecaries, priests and ritualists just have some notes on their skills and you will never need to use them in sufficent hurry that you can’t refresh your memory.
How much should I know about the in game religion, other than the absolute basics?
My spiel for new players is generally “We don’t have Gods, Reincarnation is a fact. There are 7 virtues, following the virtues in life helps get you through the Labyrinth” Maybe have a look at the virtues and find one to follow,
Many priests are happy giving religious instruction IC, and it’s always something you can learn more about after a first event.
Are the “This nation is and is not” lines hard and fast rules, or are they mutable?
Ideally you should aim to stick as close to the nation brief as possible. I would generally say that the this nation is not are pretty hard and fast, some of them are to support the OOC Diversity policy or health and safety and others not following them might get your character executed as a religious heretic.
Is there a “The story so far” summary anywhere? I know that it all kicked off with the death of Britta, but what’s happened in game since then? Are the “Winds of fortune and war” that?
Not really, Empire is a big and complex game with large numbers of plot threads floating around at any point and I don’t think any character on the field knows about the ‘Whole story.’
The winds of war are basically the course of the wars that the empire fights, and reading all of them would give you a fairly good idea of the history of the military campaign. That being said I can imagine them being far too much information for a new player.
Winds of fortune are a selection of some of the more obvious plots that would be effecting the next event, and have a small section on resolution. The Winds of fortune have the advantage that they are tagged by who they might interest, and it’s easier to read a few of the previous ones that are relevant.
Reading the Winds of War and Winds of Fortune for the event you are going too is probably a sensible balance between getting an idea of what is going on and information overload. (If anything is confusing, write a note of it and try to find someone in the field who can explain it.
What would a good character and background be for someone who is new to both Empire and LARP in general?
How customizable are the nations different outfit styles? As in, would specific designs of boots or jerkins be frowned upon?
It’s hard to talk really generally about this, it is good to be clearly of you nation, both on reinforcing the setting and also it helps on the field. It’s easier to play around with things if you have an idea where you might be confused with another nation. Some bits of the brief have and amount of flexibility, but there are some hard and fast lines. If in doubt come back and ask about the specific style that you are thinking of.
On footwear, Historically authentic shoes are good, dry comfortable feet are far better. Honestly as long as you aren’t wearing glaringly modern footwear no one is going to take issue.
Would it be better, as a new player, to pick an archetype? Or would that lock me out of potential roleplay opportunities?
Firstly if you mess up any part of your initial character, in your first event or two PD will be really accommodating of you changing it.
Secondly aside from the first 8 exp, until you spend exp it is attached to the player not the character. So it’s fairly easy to retire a non fun character to play something you think might be more fun.
With that in mind, aside from turning up without spending any exp and the apprentice skill. I would strongly recommend picking a suitable archetype. They are often full of little things to help you catch the character of that nation, and describing yourself as a Vate or a Weaver is far better than describing yourself as a ritualist, and in some cases might open up bits of the game.
Is there a bestiary of all the non human creatures in the world of Empire? Spanning everything from trolls to wolves?
It’s not exhaustive but have a Bestiary link