Monday, April 1, 2019

Poking the Emperor - too complex for its own good

Over the last few years, I have read a lot of odd, sometimes free, RPGs. Poking the Emperor... well, it struck me as a brilliant idea thematically but kind of clunky mechanically.

Okay, here’s the idea. You know how Conan ends his career as the emperor of a vast and ancient empire, the crown on his troubled brow, etc? Well, the game takes place decades that happened. The unnamed but blatantly Conan emperor is now old, demented and dying. The players are his court, each one trying to take over when he’s dead but also trying to keep the empire from completely collapsing. Unless you side with the enemies of the empire, of course!

I’m not going to go through the rules. The game is free to download and pretty short to boot. The GM controls the emperor and tracks his humors to determine his moods and tastes. The players pick from a very prescribed list of actions to gain power and influence the emperor. And after everyone gets to do something, you find out what bad stuff happens to the empire. The game ends with either the emperor dying or the empire collapsing.

And here’s my issues with Poke The Emperor and why I’m pretty sure it’s languished in obscurity. There is too much focus on book keeping and specific discrete mechanical actions and not enough about creating scenes and actual role playing. I’ve played crunch heavy games and don’t mind lots of rules but the structure of Poking the Emperor might make it easier to not role play.

It’s pretty obvious that My Life With Master was a big influence on Poking the Emperor. However, I feel like it’s missing so much of what made My Life With Master special. My Life With Master is very character-driven, focused on the personal journey of a minion. Poke the Emperor is, well, a lot more general and big picture. Which really needs another kind of approach.

There are elements I like about the game. The overall theme and the way different threats progress. But I don’t see myself actually playing the game.

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