Imperium Romanorum Project: Part I (Introduction and Project Overview)

Submitted by Tyr on Thu, 2011-07-28 12:45

As many know, I have been working for some time on a historical-themed game set in Medieval Germany, around the mid-12th Century, which I am calling Imperium Romanorum, which is how it was known contemporaneously. Although my historical studies have been getting the best of me, I've been meaning to blog about the process of developing the game for some time as a means of keeping track of where I'm at on the project as well as inviting feedback on my ideas for the game. This will be the first post in what will hopefully turn into an ongoing series, assuming I can keep myself on-track. The investigation into the history of the period was a strong motivation for me to begin work on this project, as I conceived of the game as being an educational project as well as entertainment. This blogging will ideally also serve as a means of helping others understand some of the complexity of building a game, particularly one serving as more than just entertainment.

A brief outline of the project history: I conceived of doing a fantasy game based on pre-Christian Germanic religion some years ago, and tinkered a bit. Due to RL circumstances, the project was shelved, and I was introduced to Geoffrey Barraclough's The Origins of Modern Germany, which, although debatable on certain points, still serves as a strong introduction to the history; this prompted a shift to a strictly historical theme. At this point, I was still interested in a game set in the early Middle Ages, but I began to discover that there simply wasn't enough primary source material to satisfy my desire for a very strong historical emphasis in the game; the information about who ruled what, where, and how simply was not available, and I did not feel comfortable making this information up. Additionally, I felt that the period was simply not "medieval" enough; that is, in the popular imagination, the Middle Ages are associated with knights, stone castles, crusades, tournaments, chivalry, and a host of other things which did not yet exist. Eventually, I shifted the focus forward two centuries, where it remains now, briefly considering the civil wars of the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V in the 11th century, finally settling on the reign of Frederick I.

At present, then, the game will begin during the reign of Frederick's uncle, Conrad III, and will stick to the historical chronology for the last three years of that reign, up until Frederick is elected. After that, the timeline will be allowed to diverge from our history. Players can be characters from every level of society, from lowly serfs to the great feudal princes who vied for supremacy. In general, the paradigm being used for the game is the traditional derivative-themed faction-based game such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, et at.; of course, since the setting is the real world rather than a fictional universe, things can get a little trickier, and in place of Feature Characters, Imperium Romanorum features Historical Characters (but this is primarily a semantic difference). There are also features which, AFAIK, are unique to Imperium Romanorum, intended to deal with certain problems which I have encountered when I was an active RPer on multiple games.

Given the state of communications and transportation in this period, rulers of large estates found it necessary to ride around their possessions on horseback in order to exercise their authority effectively. The Holy Roman Empire (which it was not yet called, but for the sake of convenience, I'll call it that here), furthermore, was the largest polity in medieval Europe, stretching from the North Sea to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and from the Baltic to the Adriatic. Even with the restricted geographic focus of the initial IC grid (encompassing an area now within the boundaries of France, Germany, and Switzerland), this still represents a substantial amount of ground that players potentially must cover in order to find RP. An additional difficulty is imposed by the fact that Imperium Romanorum maintains an objective IC chronology (the lack of concrete time progression being one of the aforementioned problems); time will advance at a definite rate. To mitigate these effects somewhat, IC time will progress in large increments over a relatively large period of RL time (at present the plan is 2 RL months to one IC year), such that players may travel as they wish, and do not have to pass up RP at one end of the grid simply because they happen to be at the other at a given moment, and they cannot be in two places at once; but they must ensure that they do not try to be somewhere they could not, based on the places where they have been ICly (that is, they have roleplayed or wrote a story about their character being somewhere) prior to a given journey.

In my next post, I'll talk about the narrative focus of the game, and the community features I plan to include to encourage player participation. I'll also talk about how game administration will work under my current plan, to deal with the problem of the separation of "IC" and "OOC" leadership, which is another of the problems I've noticed. Future posts will include discussions of coded systems, some game design philosophy, and a bit of discussion of the theme (mainly in the form of writings on the history of the Empire and the European Middle Ages). Feedback is welcome, nay, encouraged!