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Avoiding Dead Ends

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By Kevan

This is an attempt to document an incomplete list of some of the dead ends that BlogNomic dynasties have wandered towards or into over the years, and some ways to head them off.

Naturally, many of these can also be employed in a black hat way by a Nomic player seeking to gain victory by boring or confusing their opponents.

Too Much Stuff

Situation
Players add many different stats and mechanics, which may be interconnected but which for the most part don't ultimately lead anywhere. A victory condition either does not yet exist, or is only attainable at the end of a very complex chain of events.
Result
The ruleset becomes too complex for most players to understand the whole game, deterring casual players from taking any action in case it's invalid or (more likely) unwise. At the same time, attentive players lack any reason to take actions because they can't see a clear path to victory (or don't want to tip their hand if they can only get 90% of the way there), and they wait for something to happen. The game begins to stagnate.
Solutions
Bold repeals of the rules which don't seem to be doing anything and which seem the least interesting. Stats can be merged together, with players who'd banked a lot of one stat being compensated with a relative amount of another. Players can be encouraged to take action (any action, even a bad one) by adding deadlines, or a cap on resources to that a player with a full tank may as well spend some. It may also be time for an attainable victory condition, although unless it ties everything together, some mechanics will immediately atrophy as irrelevant.

Compulsory Pop Culture

Situation
An Emperor bases their dynasty on a specific cultural artefact, such as a film or videogame, and attempts to keep the dynasty true to its canon.
Result
Other players who know the source material enjoy adding content in reference to it. But players who don't know it can start to feel alienated: they can become discouraged from participating if they feel that their proposals might be rejected - by the Emperor or by the group - for contradicting the canon. They might also feel out of their depth if they can't see a distinction between mechanics which are core parts of the source material (whose rules should not be casually amended or repealed, and are worth investing time in performing), and those which are original low-stakes inventions of the players.
Solutions
Present the dynasty as a generic-brand version of an existing franchise. Rather than announcing a Super Mario dynasty, either make it a dynasty about an unthemed platform game, or a dynasty about a plumber who eats mushrooms and catches turtles. If the ascension address contains everything a player needs to know about the game universe, everyone can build it on the same level.

Unexplained Vision

Situation
An Emperor has a plan for a dynasty, but doesn't clearly explain it in advance to the players, instead voicing reluctance on (or even voting against) proposals that fail to fit with the plan. This can be a mechanical vision - where an Emperor has decided that they want a dynasty with no randomness, or no daily actions, or no vote manipulation - or it can be thematic, in which case this overlaps with the "Pop Culture Theme" section above.
Result
Even the mildest Imperial reluctance over a "wrong" proposal can be enough to elicit respectful DEF and AGAINST votes from other players, causing the proposal to fail. This can make players reluctant to author any complex proposals, in case they're similarly rejected. Players begin to look to the Emperor for all dynastic development - even if they're willing to shoulder that, it starts to feel less like a Nomic.
Solutions
If an Emperor feels strongly about constraints for a dynasty, these should be communicated to players as early as possible in the dynasty. If a proposal crosses a line the Emperor hadn't thought to mention, they can always wave it through and then amend it themselves to remove whatever they objected to.

Silent Gameplay

Situation
One or more core mechanics of a dynasty require few or no gamestate changes to perform. This may be minimal (players rolling dice in the die roller, updating the wiki for a minority of their results and never announcing anything on the blog) or could even be entirely secret (players sending private orders to the Emperor, which update secret variables).
Result
To a casual player of the game, it looks like nothing much is happening: even a game with active wiki gameplay can seem stagnant if the variables are subtle and the player doesn't check the wiki page history. In cases where the main game actions are secret and invisible, even the most attentive player of the game may not know whether anyone else is actually playing. If some players start to assume that no game is really being played, they're inclined to give up and idle out.
Solutions
Add noise to the game by having some of the larger game actions require a post to the blog, or have a mechanic that generates "game news" summaries periodically.

Complex Update Actions

Situation
A dynasty is built around a regular "update" action; a complex and necessary sequence of events undertaken by a player every few days to assign resources or process orders. For one reason or another, this action is not being performed: perhaps it's an Emperor-only action and the Emperor is unavailable; perhaps it's sufficiently complex that novice players aren't confident about performing it, combined with the advanced players having some tactical reason not to perform it themselves right now.
Result
The game cannot progress.
Solutions
If it doesn't need to be an Emperor-only action, consider making it an action that any player may perform. If the action is too complex, simplify it - perhaps moving some of it out into optional player actions that can be taken by those players once between updates.

Ludonarrative Dissonance

Situation
The rules include some aspect which functions okay on a mechanical level, but which contradicts the players' perception of what's happening. This can be a game stat or action which is unintuitively misnamed (an action called "trading" which doesn't require mutual agreement and is actually more like stealing), or a purportedly objective stat which contradicts the the wider experience of the players (a "popularity" score which supposedly measures how liked a player is in-character among the group, but which is only modified by certain arbitrary actions - if a player takes some obnoxious in-game actions which fall outside of that list, to unanimous disapproval, the game still blindly states that they remain "popular" and have to be treated as such within the game).
Result
Poorly named mechanics can lead to players accidentally performing illegal actions, or missing out on performing legal ones because they didn't expect them to be possible. Players might hoard a resource that sounds good while being bad, or avoid a useful one that has a discouraging name. Poorly-named game aspects can be harder to build on, and become neglected, as attempts to add intuitive extra aspects clash against the underlying ruletext. Dissonance can make the game feel broken if the mood among players on a given day is tense and cautious in the aftermath of a shocking game move, while a gamestate value called "Atmosphere" is still lagging on "relaxed" (with whatever effect on gameplay) because that's what the rules officially say that it's set at.
Solutions
Give mechanics and variables names that match what they're describing, and check they don't give off any strong implications that aren't supported by the ruletext. Avoid game variables which purport to measure how the players feel about something, because it can (unless it can literally be updated in real time by those players to match their feelings) easily contradict what the players actually think.