The Elder Council and You
As we start gearing up for a time jump, and what that means for the game, there’s been a lingering question from folks that seems easy to address: What is “The Elder Council”?
When we put together the Wisconsin game years back, we looked across all the games in the network to see how their models worked (or didn’t work) for the game we wanted our players to experience. One of the things that we took away from that research was the need to have an NPC setup in which the game runners had control over issues that directly impacted the play, well-being and fairness for all players across the game. The concept of the Elder Council was specifically placed into use for that purpose – when we saw the potential for abuse, or instances where players could inadvertently change the experience for players in a way they hadn’t considered, we had the option of stepping in and having the more nebulous NPC group use certain plot and drivers as course corrections. The aspect was built into history that the original families (and specifically their strains) would keep control over their land with enough input to ensure the Ironworks was appeased, and that the core interests of those groups were a general undertone.
Fast forward a while, and we’ve not only leveraged the original purpose, but also have used the NPC group to advance plot, offer unique opportunities that weren’t easy to build in otherwise, and course correct when things went beyond the bounds of the game we had been running. We’ve always been open to player agency, but at the same time, we’ve been particularly up front that certain aspects of the world around your characters have their own life and will impact the game just as much as the characters in those cases. So what does that have to do with today?
If you’ve been to game recently, you’ll know that the town has been given a lot more freedom with the Ironworks mostly out of the picture. (Maybe? For now? Forever?) The aspect of building a small portion of the larger ‘city’ area that is Steel Horse has fallen to individual zones, and this game exists in one particular zone, while NPC factions (see 3.0 for more detail there) will exist alongside them in various capacities. The chance to govern the specific area in question – the place where characters live, gather, and otherwise experience game – means everyone gets a chance to help guide that part of the world. That also opens the door to options that the game runners will need to keep an eye on. Are our new players being treated just as fairly as our veterans? Is there a way that a single person or small group is taking advantage of that system in order to make the game experience worse for others? Is a core principle of our game’s background disappearing without NPC input? All those items and more will still require an eye on the general ideals we want to ensure remain true in our play space.
What this doesn’t mean is that the game runners want to run your game and part of town top down. We aren’t interested in the micromanagement of how the players and their PCs want to play the game aside from providing a fun environment. We are definitely not going to look at every law a council of PCs would pass and say “Nah, don’t wanna” when it doesn’t impede, or cause problems for, other players. These NPCs aren’t going to show up for no reason and take over the game. They are there solely for the constructive well-being and longevity of all players, and when otherwise specifically engaged, to enhance the roleplay of characters. You can have any number of interactions with them, but they should not be expected to be regular visitors or iron-fisted rulers. Within some small boundaries, they are there for story and gentle nudging. Think of them as a kind of NPC landlord: as long as things are going reasonably well, you won’t see them. As with any NPC, they will also have a life of their own, and respond to PCs accordingly if they are so engaged.