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Advice for Emperors

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By Josh

The role of Emperor in a round of BlogNomic can be unusually demanding. On the surface, it is easy enough: you set a theme that sets the creativity of the players loose, and then sit back, carry out your game actions with a Dungeon-Masterly remove, and everyone has a good time. The hard truth is that, while dynasties like this do occur, but they are rare and hard to engineer. The specific alchemy of theme, compelling mechanics, the right players with the right amount of time and concentration on the game, and an appropriately slow release of mechanics that keeps the game both novel and competitive for the duration of the dynasty is hard enough to bring together, but even if you succeed, it may not be enough. The rare example of an effortless dynasty relies on a great deal of luck, and as such, this page is not about those dynasties - not about how to run them, and not about how to engineer them. It's about the other dynasties, and the straightforward advice is that they require work.

At a top level, perhaps, the biggest question is perhaps this: to what level are you personally prepared to be responsible for the success or failure of your dynasty?

That is a question that has hung over BlogNomic for almost its entire life. It is natural to feel responsible for your dynasty, and the evidence is that most (if not all) Emperors, do, to some greater or lesser extent. Many Emperors have their first dynasty stutter and then quit the game forever, and it's not hard to imagine that the tension of being Emperor and the disappointment arising from the perceived failure of their dynasty results in them being discouraged. If that is not you then congratulations: you may not be the best Emperor BlogNomic ever had, but you won't care, so go in peace. This advice is not for you.

For everyone else, there are some easy steps you can take to improve your chances of having a good dynasty.

This advice is primarily for first-timers; if you are lucky enough to be the Emperor of three or four dynaties then you will find a rhythm that works for you. In its current state, this advice reflects the opinions of a single player. Any other players with relevant thoughts are encouraged to contribute, however.

Know Your Identity

The first decision that you will have to make, even before you have thought about themes or mechanics or your Ascension Address, is this: what kind of Emperor are you going to be? At the time of writing (May 2020), the ruleset offers a few scant pointers that can help to frame the question: by turning on Imperial Deferentials you are signalling a willingness to let the players guide the mechanics, and by turning on Dynastic Distance you are suggesting that you will be dispassionate, and are indicating that you are prepared to allow your human capabilities to be used to underpin mechanics that are too labourious to automate. These, however, are sugestions, and only hint at the breadth of the toolset available to you. If you spot a loophole in a player's proposal, will you point it out? If a proposal takes your initial theme in a direction other than that which you expected, how will you react? Is it up to the players to check over each others' actions, or are you responsible for maintaining the integrity of the gamestate? Under what circumstances would you use the veto?

Once you have answered the question for yourself of what your approach will be, communicate it. Players respond poorly to an ambiguous relationship with the Emperor. Don't be afraid to change your approach but if you do then communicate that too. Be overt, direct and transparent.

The questions I drew out above, and many more, are intended to be a way to help Emperors to frame the terms of Imperial success or failure. An Emperor who knows the terms of their engagement is in a better position to evaluate and contextualise their dynasty. The remainder of this advice will suggest some of the levers available to Emperors to help them to succeed on their own terms.

Proposals

The most powerful weapon in the players' arsenal against each other is also the Emperor's most powerful weapon in their pursuit of a successful dynasty.

It is hard work, but by far the most potent thing that an Emperor can do to ensure that they will have a successful dynasty is to ensure that their two proposal slots are always being utilised. As the playerbase of BlogNomic has aged, it has become more and more true that many players simply don't have the time to make rafts of proposals. However, it is true that ideas beget ideas, and it is also true that the lowest impact action that a player can make is to vote on a proposal. Therefore, ensuring that there are always proposals in the queue is a universal good; it gives those players who have the mental space to engage with the game something to latch onto, while giving those players who are more interested in playing BlogNomic than shaping it have something to do every day.

Proposals from the Emperor don't have to be good. In fact, it's better if they're not. A crisp turnover of votes and proposals on the blog creates a sense of energy and activity that players respond to, so so long as your proposals are not game-breakingly bad, make them anyway. Putting forward proposals with loopholes for players to exploit or correct feeds the underlying Nomic mechanics and provokes a response from players, and giving players mechanical ideas that are half-baked allows them to refine them and make them work, helping to get players invested. Proposals that are too neat and interlocking creates the sense of a game that is too curated. Feel free to be messy; as Emperor you'll have more than enough to do without drafting your proposals to death.

Efficiency of other actions

As a loosely related corrolary to that: make yourself an admin, and ensure that proposals are processed in a timely manner. Players can only propose when they have slots, and the burden of admining a long queue can be enough to disuade someone with a good idea from bothering to write it up. Long wait times for proposals to be adminned is an early sign of a struggling dynasty; by committing to stay on top of the queue you are both avoiding the stench of failure and also, coincidentally, helping yourself to stay on top of the ruleset and its changes.

Vote on every proposal, ideally as soon as you see it. Take the time to work out what each proposal does. Emperor votes really do matter. You may or may not have decided that your job is not to interfere with scams in the making. If that is the case then withhold your vote until later, but either way, make sure that your vote gets cast.

If you have actions assigned to you then make sure you do them as often as the ruleset allows for. Be predictable. Only delay an action for the passage of a proposal that affects it, and even then make sure that the delay is short (a matter of hours at most). Set alarms to help remind yourself if necessary.

Inspiration and Larceny

That advice comes with a difficult obligation: if you are committing to being an ideas factory, where should those ideas come from? Happily, this is one of the easier questions to answer. In the first instance, you may have an idea of what mechanics you want to use to drive the dynasty, or you may be able to respond to player ideas in a way that is fun or interesting for you. But sooner or later those sources may start to run dry, at which point you can and should turn to theft with a clear conscience.

Steal from other dynasties that you played in where you saw mechanics that you liked and interactions that worked.

Steal from other games entirely - think about board games or video games that you like and rip out their core mechanics wholesale.

Steal from yourself. Are you thinking ahead to your second dynasty already? It'll be six months at least before you get that shot, so roll those ideas in here.

Remember, you are not responsible for the state of the rules under any circumstances. In a Nomic, that is always a shared responsibility. However, you may find that you have given yourself the responsibility for making the dynasty enjoyable. In that light, proposals that you suspect might fail but which might provoke a response are acceptable. If all else fails and you find your dynasty bogged down then you can propose to repeal a swath of the ruleset that you feel isn't working. This kind of creative destruction can be very productive as players rush to fill the gap left by chunks of erstwhile mechanics.

Try to avoid getting bogged down in core rule fixes and twiddling with the appendices in order to bolster activity. If you are passionate about those things then you can do them any time, but while you are Emperor, you set the tone for the dynasty, and proposals that do not change the game or provoke ideas lose a lot of the benefits of proposing drawn out in section 1 above.

Levels of Engagement

Different players approach BlogNomic in different ways, and while an Emperor doesn't have to ensure that all of their concerns are equally met, it is helpful to carry certain archetypes in mind when considering the mechanical flow of the ruleset.

At a default level, you should aim to ensure that there is a simple starter mechanic that any player can perform without having to understand the whole ruleset. Holding a ruleset in your head and modelling how it works is a skill, and a rare one; most players want to dip a toe in and see where it leads. Having a single, simple action that new players can perform that doesn't require them to understand second-and third-order knock-on effects will act as an on-ramp that will allow casual and new players to engage with the game. Those players won't always actually be competitive, but that isn't the point. The point is for them to be involved, and to give those players who do want to play to win a complex ecosystem in which to operate. Creating catch-up mechanics that allow late bloomers a chance to win is a nice-to-have. Implement them if you can but not at the expense of defrauding those players who have been engaged from the beginning.

With regards to the more competitive players, be even-handed but not to a fault. Your every proposal doesn't have to be zero-sum neutral; those disadvantaged by a given proposal will protest, as is their right, but you can safely ignore them. You have the advantage of being perceived as an honest broker and can make use of that fact. So long as you are not egregiously kingmaking and can justify your approach on the basis of what is best for the game, you can let these squalls wash over you. Sometimes players will take your actions personally. Try not to get involved with this behaviour. Some players are not skiled at divorcing their emotionality from their game plans, but you must be. You don't want to alienate these players - passion is a good thing in this context - but keeping them appeased cannot be your highest priority. Players who simply wish to participate - who vote with the majority or defer on most proposals, rarely propose, and take game actions with only a hazy sense of strategy - are as important as the try-hard strategicians.

Get these details right and then you can start to consider more complex, interlocking networks of mechanics.