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MACHIAVEL: AMBITION—Introduction, Character Generation

Discussion in 'Machiavel: Ambition' started by Ravana, May 21, 2011.

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  1. Ravana

    Ravana Istar


    The old Empire is no more. Long live the new.

    The senile Last Emperor, Palagyr, nearing his end, wished to provide worthy inheritances for all his children. So he bestowed each of the outlying regions to one of his three sons, styling them Kings after the old fashion, that they might by their strengths and that of their lines defend the borders of the empire; the inner half of the empire he divided among his three daughters, investing each with the title Princess Royal, that they might by their gentler guidance preserve the prosperity of the center and support their brothers in the maintenance of their protecting armies. From among the husbands of the three princesses royal, and in later generations from their descendants, the six siblings or their heirs were to jointly elect a new Emperor whenever the position fell vacant. Thereby, thought the Last Emperor, no one part of the empire, no one branch of the family, would achieve preponderance of power over the others; central administration would be maintained, and the borders would be secure from incursion.

    As if that were going to work.…

    It fell apart about as rapidly as one might expect it would. Of the six royal heirs, four claimed the throne and voted for themselves, while the remaining two, though willing to distance themselves from their own claims to the throne, were unwilling to vote for any of the others. When the dust of the civil wars settled, the three Kingdoms were all de facto independent of the old empire, though still claimed by (and claiming) it; the combined nobility of the core areas–the present Empire of Athringen–compelled a settlement on the heirs of the princesses, creating the office of Elector, separate from royal descent. From now on, it would be the nobility (or, rather, a select group thereof) who decided who would become emperor. And while the Electors have generally adhered to some branch or other of the royal line when the time came to fill the throne, they do not regard themselves as bound to do so: conceivably, any member of the nobility, through marriage or consanguinity with the royal line, or in spite of the lack of either, could one day find himself seated at the head of the empire.

    Even a lowly baron like you.…



    Machiavel is a cooperative-competitive RPG. You begin your rule with a castle, a town, and various other holdings. So does everyone else in the game. You can engage in trade, development of your lands, exploration on both land and sea of the existing continents–and possibly new, unknown lands; you can exert influence at court or attempt to manipulate (or become!) one of the empire's high officers; you can hire experts ranging from heralds and scribes to alchemists and astrologers; you can arrange marriages for yourself, your heirs, and your court, with nobles from other realms; you may attempt to discredit other nobles or their supporters; you can sponsor guilds, churches and universities; you will face random events, ranging from plagues and bandit incursions to bumper crops and new resource finds; you can attempt to reform or convert (or prevent reform or conversion of) your people's, or others', religions; you may attempt conquest of other realms within or beyond the borders of your empire; you may even rebel against your own feudal overlord or attempt to usurp his title.


    I will for the sake of convenience use masculine titles and pronouns in all cases save where it is necessary to differentiate. This should not be taken to indicate that female characters or NPCs are in any way disadvantaged: there is no reason the "Emperor” could not in fact be an Empress–a couple of them have been.

    While this world partakes considerably of both reality and history–and only minimally of certain fantasy staples–it is still a fantasy world. Or to put it another way: don't assume that the richness and depth of detail (or lack thereof) accurately reflects any particular period or element of history, natural science, etc. In particular, I occasionally play fast and loose with titles to fit game needs.

    Anybody who wishes to play should contact me by PM, so that I can generate a barony for you. The game will be viewable by anyone, but posting will be limited to those who are actually playing.


    For the time being, there isn't a whole lot in the way of mechanics. I will be using a set of tables to generate events, but these will not strictly be "random”–partly because I'll be tailoring the results to fit the ongoing story, partly because I don't have numbers assigned to all of them. Various resources, improvements, cultural and political factors will provide bonuses or penalties to the outcomes of player actions. For the most part, these will be obvious: if something sounds like it ought to be a good thing, it probably is. Combat between armed forces will be simple and abstract, and will in any event be less complex than your economy. [Though that has simplified considerably from what we started with.]

    The game will be quasi-turn-based: I will ask each player for a set of decisions for each turn, execute the actions all at the same time and inform you of the outcomes. Each game-turn represents a very roughly-abstracted month of "real” time. Game turns will be processed as frequently as practical, based largely on how rapidly input comes in from the players. You will be told if you attempt to take more actions than the present turn allows; in general, each specific aspect of your realm (specialist, resource, workforce or military unit) will be able to take one action per turn/month. [So far, I haven't processed a turn in less than a week, but that's largely because I'm making both the game and the world up as we go along. I actually could do them every 24 hours at this point, but I doubt I'll ever push them past one per week, certainly not more than one per 3-4 days, to make sure everyone has time to get activities in to me.]

    Communications in the game is faster than it would be in a "real” situation… messages travel faster than the fastest horse or ship. This is a practical, rather than a technological, consideration: I don't want to have to figure out how long it takes for messages to go back and forth. This doesn't mean you'll find out everything that happens everywhere in the empire instantly, only that you as players need not be restricted to a certain number of exchanges of messages in a given time period.

    Many activities will occur faster than normal, as well… your peasant workforce is more-or-less constantly harvesting food (though there will be specific harvest times when they better be doing that, or else they'll starve in the winter!), so you may receive multiple consecutive "harvest” events, for instance, rather than just one per game-year. People reach adulthood faster in this game, too… so an heir born to you on turn two doesn't need to wait until turn 181 or so to be useful for anything! (Nor, if you are a female character, need you suffer months of inactivity as a result of pregnancy.) Many actions will nonetheless take several turns: building a ship, or a wall around your city, or a new watchtower, will require more than a single turn's work; building a cathedral will require a lot more than a single turn's work. Travel time for your character will be abstract to the extent that you can get from any one point in the empire to any other within the same game-turn; if troop or other large movements are involved, travel may take somewhat longer.

    Each game month will receive a separate, new thread once the previous month's actions are resolved, to which everybody is invited to post their actions and interactions (apart from anything sneaky you don't want other players to know about). I will be maintaining threads summarizing past activity, as well as important events happening elsewhere in the world. Likewise, the "Introduction/Rules” thread and the various threads involving background and setting–however many that ultimately runs to–will be stickied. These will be closed to posts except by the GM, for clutter-avoidance reasons. I encourage you to create a unique thread for your character/barony as well, placing in it whatever information you wish to share with everyone (or that they would reasonably be able to find out anyway in the setting); your monthly activities can go here as well, if you'd rather keep them all together.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. Ravana

    Ravana Istar



    What you do during each “month” is another story: you can communicate with other players as much as you like (as if I could stop you), and coordinate activities to whatever extent you care to. This is where a large part of the role-playing is going to come in: your interactions with one another. I don’t need to see all of these, just the results you wish to put into effect. As mentioned, this is a “cooperative-competitive” RPG: the extent to which you do either with other players is up to you. Form a single party, create rival factions, go it alone—or maneuver between all of these… it’s up to you.

    The other aspect of role-playing will come in interaction with the immense cast of NPCs involved in the political, economic, cultural and military direction of the Empire and its components. You may expect to communicate regularly with your feudal overlord; you may receive messages, instructions or visitations from higher nobles, distant relations, military officials, perhaps even the Emperor himself.

    Unless you choose otherwise, you begin play as a baron—you are the senior member of a line of hereditary nobility, and hold legal title on your lands as a grant devolving from the Emperor. You start with a keep, a town, and various other assets within your barony. Not all baronies are equal; certainly not all of them possess the same resources.

    You may choose to be something other than a reigning baron, if you wish: you could, for example, be a younger member of such a family; you could be a member of a knightly order; you could be an influential burgher, possibly holding office within a larger town or city; you could be a military officer. What you cannot be is someone of no social consequence: the entire point of the game is for you to wield your power and influence, whatever it may start out as, to further yourself, achieve your own aims and the aims of those you choose to ally or partner with.

    Your character may be of either gender, of any age from 15 upward—I’d suggest not going for anything over 40, so that you can give yourself a reasonable amount of life expectancy. You have occupied your present position, whatever it is, for no more than five years. You may provide your own details for immediate family, within reason, though keep in mind that if you’re a reigning baron, you have to be the eldest of your surviving siblings, and the parent you’ve inherited through must be dead. One other restriction if you’re a baron: you are either married or have a deceased spouse, since one of your culture’s laws is that only a married heir can inherit. (No divorces allowed at present.) You do not get to decide what titles, offices or other positions your relations currently hold, or who they might be married to: I do that. (I am open to suggestions.) I’ll also handle extended family.

    You may choose to be closely related to or associated with other players, if you would prefer such a position. You may even begin the game married to another player-character baron—in which case you will jointly administer two baronies from the outset, the first step in expanding your holdings and raising yourselves to… well, the game is subtitled “Ambition,” isn’t it?

    In summary:
    Gender: either, doesn’t matter.
    Age: 15+ (adulthood).
    Position: Baron of a fief; or other position of social consequence as negotiated with GM.
    Tenure in current position: at most 5 years. Add this to minimum age: so, for example, if you want to have three years tenure, you must be at least 18.
    Family, assuming you’re a Baron:
    (1) You are the eldest living offspring of the parent from whom you have inherited your title.
    (2) The parent from whom you have inherited your title is dead.
    (3) You were married at the time you were confirmed in your title; either you still are now, or your spouse is dead.
    (4) Other parent, younger siblings, deceased older siblings, children: at your option. If you don’t want to choose, I’ll fill in the blanks.
    Family, if you aren’t a Baron: up to you (some positions may have special requirements).

    As for names: I’d prefer that they sound as if they at least had the possibility of arising from a Germanic language (including English), Hungarian or Romanian, since those are the languages I’ll be using as the basis for NPC names, and it would be nice to be at least moderately consistent. If you insist on having a “funny-sounding” name, don’t be surprised if people react to you as though you were a foreigner. You may name your barony yourself, or leave it up to me.

    Also, give some consideration to what you’d like your heraldic arms to be. It won’t affect anything, but it’s a nice touch.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  3. Ravana

    Ravana Istar



    The three bordering kingdoms lie to the east, north and west of the empire. Beyond their borders lie untamed lands governed by independent lordlings with such uncouth titles as herzog, jarl, or atabegh. Farther east and west are lands largely unexplored, and beyond them, perhaps across seas, are said to be other great and wealthy lands that presumptuously style themselves “empires.” South of the empire, and north beyond the untamed lands, are also seas; the empire maintains two narrow corridors to the northern sea, giving it ports and separating the kingdoms from touching one another. Beyond the southern sea lies another continent, about which little is known apart from its coastal realms; lands are also known to lie beyond the northern seas, but even less is known about these. Whether you elect to explore these areas, send trading expeditions to them, or even attempt to conquer them, is up to you—assuming you possess the resources to do so, that is. High-risk ventures often bring high profits. And vice versa.

    The terrain of the Empire and the immediately bordering areas resembles that of Central Europe: lots of woods, lots of hills and valleys, numerous navigable rivers, a fair amount of fertile plains, some swamps, some mountains. There are no deserts, glaciers or jungles within the lands you’re familiar with; there are no volcanoes, so you need not worry that your holdings might suddenly find themselves paved over in lava. You have heard of such things happening elsewhere.… The land isn’t completely tectonically stable: earthquakes have been known to happen, but fortunately they’re rare.

    The climate is temperate; winters aren’t much good for growing things, and are lousy times to undertake military campaigns or sea voyages, but they’re rarely brutal. Summers are decently warm but rarely hot. (It’s my fantasy world, and I hate weather over 75°F, thank you very much.) Rainfall is adequate to keep most things growing in most years without extensive irrigation… not that irrigation doesn’t help. Floods, hail and other destructive storms are possible, as are drought and wildfires; tropical cyclones tend to be little more than distant rumor.

    The year consists of twelve months of thirty days each, divided into five weeks of six days each: five working days and one rest day. The year begins on the vernal equinox—the first day of spring. The equinoxes and solstices are all holidays, as is the emperor’s birthday; others may exist or be proclaimed from time to time, depending on the whim (or ego) of the emperor, your feudal overlords, or yourself. Current religious practice also observes Planting and Harvest Festivals; while these are nominally mid-spring and mid-autumn, actual observances, apart from religious services, tend to take place at the end of the week in which these occur, to provide two-day weekends. Some of the more devout also observe Midsummer, though for the most part this is limited to the priesthood. Additionally, there is one observance your subjects generally ignore, but which you can’t: Midwinter Court, which occupies the third week of the eleventh month, attendance at which is expected of all the nobility and greater officers of the realm… at least all who wish to get ahead in life.


    The background can be most safely visualized as Western and Central European from about the time of Charlemagne to the end of the Thirty Years’ War—roughly 800 to 1650 A.D. There will be a few major differences; perhaps the biggest one is the near-equality of the sexes. Women can rule in their own right, at least within the Empire, and can and do perform all the tasks men do, even soldiering, so there’s no need to worry about whether your character is male or female. The second biggest difference—and perhaps the most “fantastic” element of the game—concerns language: all natives of the Empire speak the same one (which for the moment I’m calling Atinle; the lower classes use a somewhat less sophisticated “dialect” among themselves, referred to as Igpe). Foreigners speak other languages; odds are your education included at least one of these, but we’ll sort that out when we get there. Also, unless you decide otherwise, you’re assumed to be literate in at least your native tongue. Religion, another major difference, will be addressed separately below. The owning of slaves is illegal within the Empire, though what with serfdom, bondsmen, indentured servitude, penal bondage and compulsory maintenance work on public projects, it's sometimes difficult to tell.

    The existence and functioning of magic is a commonly held belief; whether that belief is correct or not is beyond your present knowledge. There are, at any rate, no wizards slinging balls of fire about on battlefields. Not that you’ve seen. There are certainly alchemists, astrologers, witches and others who claim or are said to possess abilities beyond the mundane; you’ll have the opportunity to hire them—who knows? They might be useful.… Likewise, the existence of fantastic beasts such as dragons, griffins, sea serpents, and so forth is also commonly taken for granted—though, again, you haven’t encountered any personally. There are rumors of such beings as faeries, dwarves and goblins, of ogres and giants, of ghosts and ghouls and werewolves: all the standard fodder of folklore. Perhaps some day you’ll get the opportunity to find out for yourself.…

    Technologically speaking, the biggest difference is that gunpowder is not going to make an appearance. Beyond that, technology will start at a level roughly equivalent to that of 9th century Europe, and will progress from there, possibly quite rapidly in some fields: don’t assume that development will follow historical precedent… particularly since many technologies have been invented more than once at various points throughout history. You’ll have the opportunity to encourage its growth and influence the directions it takes—or not, though neglecting it altogether on the assumption that eventually new developments will spread on their own will likely put you at a disadvantage.


    Religion begins in a naively oversimplified form: everyone you know belongs to the same one. This will change over time, as new religions arise or are imported, or as doctrinal disputes arise within existing ones. It will never come to play quite the dominant role it has during some periods in history (simply because I don’t want it to), but it would be an ill-advised ruler who ignores it altogether. All religions in this game are fictitious: any resemblance to any real religion, present or past, is due to the fact that there are only so many permutations possible (i.e. it is coincidental), and none of these represents the gamemaster’s own views.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  4. Ravana

    Ravana Istar



    The Empire is divided into seemingly innumerable subdivisions. At the top are the duchies and marches, ruled by dukes and marquises, the difference being whether or not the region happens to be on a border or nearer the core of the Empire. (Prior to the breakup of the old empire, marches only existed in those regions that presently fall within the breakaway kingdoms on your borders. Most of the marches of the present Empire are counties that got elevated after the duchy they were part of got split as a result of those breakaways.) Dukes rank marquises, but the latter are never direct subordinates of the former. Below either can be found counts, then viscounts, then barons: that’s you, unless you’ve chosen to be something other than the senior member of a hereditary noble family. That means that, as a baron, you probably have three layers of feudal overlords between yourself and the Emperor: a viscount, a count, and either a duke or marquis. (In some cases, one or more of these levels is absent.) Other titles exist: some are of lower rank than baron (baronet); some are elevations or distinctions to other titles (archduke) which may or may not carry any greater privilege than being seated higher up along the table; some are purely honorary. Many people hold more than one title, particularly lower ones—a viscount will tend to hold certain lands directly as a baron in addition to having some other barons answer to him, and so on up the chain: this will form a large part of your aspirations, accumulating your own set of feudal holdings as you climb the social ladder. Or at least try to.

    Emperor is an elected position. Based on the will of the Last Emperor, each new emperor is chosen from the ranks of the descendants of the Last Emperor’s six children. Of course, given that all six of them had more than one heir, and all those heirs and their offspring have constantly been marrying and reproducing with the rest of the nobility (and each other), there’s a pretty broad pool of candidates. On the other hand, roughly half of these reside within the bordering kingdoms rather than the present Empire, a fact that tends to make their candidacies more problematic. Which is not to say that they don’t occasionally try for the position. The various heirs of the Last Emperor all bear the title “prince,” though this may or many not signify much of anything; nominally they rank dukes, but unless they hold a title other than prince in their own right, they are not anybody’s feudal overlords. Still, it’s a good idea not to offend them, since some day you might find one of them on the throne.…

    There are eight Electors within the Empire (plus a floating ninth, chosen by the Imperial Diet), and while these positions tend to descend along hereditary lines, they do sometimes change hands; the office of Elector is arguably the most powerful, and almost certainly the most sought after, distinction one can hold. The heir to the present emperor, if there is an heir, is sometimes elected to succeed him; at a minimum, they start out in advantageous position to influence the choice in their direction. The best way to achieve the throne is to marry a prince and then arrange for him to be elected to it. The second best way is to be a senior duke to an emperor lacking direct heirs, and arranging to be designated as the royal heir—there’s always the chance the Electors will conform to the royal wishes. Some less scrupulous nobles take great pains from time to time to see that an emperor lacks heirs.…

    Apart from the Electors, there is also a panoply of appointed offices, each bearing its own measure of power and influence. You might aspire to any of these—or find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly named to one. Or more. Just remember that with greater power comes greater responsibility. You are answerable not only to your feudal overlord, but also to his officers, and occasionally to their superiors as well. This doesn’t mean that you’ll constantly be receiving orders from dozens of different people, only that you’ll be expected to obey them when you do receive one. Unless you’re really inclined to face the fallout from not doing so, at least.


    Directing your economy will be nearly as important as managing your political contacts: “money is power,” as they say. Your fief will produce certain resources; others you will have to trade for or do without. Many resources will be fairly abstract: forests produce “timber,” for instance, without regard to the exact type of wood. A few will be more specific: “iron” and “horses” don’t allow for much in the way of substitution. Some resources don’t exist within the borders of the empire at all, and must be imported—or perhaps raided for, or else serve as an impetus for exploration and colonization. There are probably others waiting to be discovered, whether they be exotic novelties from across the seas or unappreciated commonplaces from within your own demesne.

    Some resources will be end products in themselves. Others will require crafting into more useful forms, or processing into secondary resources which are then made into end products. Forests are cut for timber, which is then used for construction or shipbuilding, or is made into furniture; the furniture may be lacquered and upholstered to attract a higher class of customer (and price). Many processes and products will require more than one material; many others, while not strictly requiring certain materials, will benefit from their inclusion, resulting in higher-quality end products.

    Each production unit (of peasants, laborers, etc.) creates a basic 1 “unit” of a given resource each turn—though there are several ways to boost this, and events can either raise or reduce this. The “trade unit” is used to prevent having to convert bushels of grain to pounds of iron to karats of gems: it is solely a measure of what a given amount of labor can produce in a given time period. Trade units are not all equal in value—each has its own price, and these will fluctuate with supply and demand.

    You will also be able to construct various improvements to your lands, from extending roads to clearing new farmland to building mills, libraries, city walls and so on. Assuming you can afford them, that is. Some improvements will provide bonuses to various aspects of the game, others will be necessary for production, others will provide access to additional or new resources. You will occasionally be called upon to expand the communities within your lands, as your population (hopefully) increases… and the overall strength of your economy, coupled with your reputation as a ruler, will be the main factors in determining whether and how rapidly such increase takes place.


    The people you surround yourself with will have a significant impact on other factors in the game. Some—your relatives—you’re pretty much stuck with (barring marrying them off, banishing or executing them). Others will be specialists and retainers whose services you hire. These range from military commanders to scholars to artists to spies, and will also include the people primarily responsible for running the day-to-day details of life in your castle and for administering your lands. Courtiers may hold titles in their own right, or as a result of rewards you bestow upon them; you might try to maneuver the best of them into important offices higher in the empire’s bureaucracy. Or at least the ones whose loyalty you feel you can best count upon. How loyal they are depends in large part on how they’re treated… and you shouldn’t always expect them to all get along with one another: some of them have ambitions, too. And, of course, the same goes for your own kin.…

    There are several officers considered “normal” for a baron to have; the list will be part of your barony when you receive it. You do not need to make use of all of them: you may perform some or all of these functions yourself, and a single person can be given more than one office. Of course, the more jobs a person has, the less time he’ll have to devote to each one, so, while combining offices can cut down on direct expenses, it will also affect the efficiency—and thus benefits—of each. Also, not all of your vassals are equal: some may be better at certain tasks than others.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
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