Empires of Ragnarok

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Empires of Ragnarok, a theoretical game inspired by Mal's academic work on the nature of empire building SDs. It is essentially a simulation of a game that purports to be a simulation of geopolitics and military strategy as it descends inevitably towards Ragnarok, the final battle of the PCs.


Empires of Ragnarok is essentially a play-by-email paced strategy game designed to be played on a forum or wiki. Its mechanics recall those of trading card games, though players choose what cards to play from a shared deck rather than draw them randomly. Although most players can play almost any card that exists (or that they make up), each player can only play a certain number of cards of each suit within a given turn or number of turns as determined by their state's makeup. Some cards are also limited by Pretense, which must be valid in order for the card to be legally played.

One in-game month constitutes one turn. Months may pass at set intervals linked to real time, when dictated by a GM, or by common agreement on what time is needed to consider the conflicts afoot that in-game month. Played cards are resolved chronologically but players are free to be as specific as they wish regarding the timing of their cards, down to the hour and minute if they so desire. Players can even "backdate" their cards to subvert other players' cards if they can come up with a Pretense to do so. This, among other things, makes the beginning and end of each month a popular time to do things. Cards played at the start of a month cannot be countered by backdating and cards played at the end can only by countered by backdating.

Once a card has been played, it cannot be retracted except as a result of another player's backdated card - backdating frequently (but not always) acts as a Pretense. Each card has a name and fluff to go with it describing what action the card constitutes as well as cynical theory and lore regarding its employment in empire building games. Their main effect is to modify NRV in some way.

  • NRV points have a Type and both a Subjective and Objective value formatted as s/o. eg. "Industry 60/40"
Very loosely, Subjective value in a given area is your attack value while Objective value is your defense. As time goes by, everyone's values go up in both fields but the absolute differences between the two generally grow larger and larger.
Eventually, everyone becomes an eggshell with a hammer and the world erupts into cataclysmic, game-ending warfare.
  • A given Card usually has at least two fields. Basic Example:
New Battleship
You've constructed a new battleship and it's just come online.
Line of Battle +40/+20
Treasury -10/-40
  • Note that the second number is almost always less than the first one - actions a player play seem better to him subjectively than the objective benefit as viewed by all other players.


Absolute value - the country's current stats - are whole numbers that cannot be reduced to zero at any stage. Where fractions occur and are somehow significant, all numbers are rounded downwards after each and every operation.

Arithmetic modifiers can be positive or negative.

Terrain bonuses and special effects may apply a percentage value. Where somehow significant, round the number down after each and every operation.

Attacks usually say to compare the attacker's subjective value on one stat to the defender's objective value on another or the same stat.

Over time, both numbers for all countries generally grow and grow but Subjective value is always higher than Objective and the differences between the two get bigger and bigger.

The number balance will be such that an early war will have the tendency to either drag on for ages or be stopped by a Trump card but later wars are more lethal until you reach a theoretical point where everyone can one-shot each other and Ragnarok is inevitable.

The numbers don't decrease. Ragnarok is inevitable.


Basic cards have a Suit associated with them that matches the main field to which they are related. The above example card would a Navy card.

Trump or Arcana cards are more special. They are generally statements of fact and their results are felt forever. One example of Arcana would be the Democracy card which provides a moral terrain bonus. Once that card is applied, it is considered fact and cannot be directly logically countered later on. A card that tried to declare the relevant country later on as an outright dictatorship would fizzle automatically.

At the start, players construct their nation with Arcana.

Possible Fields

Naval Power
This is the straight up guns and armour comparison between two navies. Some units provide more for their cost than others but the utility of certain units can be boosted by cards like Speed is Armour or Death Ride.

Naval Interdiction

Aerial Power
The ability of aerial units to achieve objectives against ground targets.

Aerial Combat

Terrestrial Firepower
Terrestrial Maneuver


Heavy Industry
Precision Industry
Technology (multiple?)
Production (specific by unit?)
Resources (specific by type?)

Plot Pool

The Plot Pool is a special pool of points that is typically increased by Cards that appear at first glance to affect the player negatively. It is used in times of need to bolster efforts and draw even where the country would ordinarily have lost. In essence, players play non-optimal cards to increase the Plot Pool on the cynical belief that because they lost once already, they'll get a turn to win next time. The Plot Pool is strictly a subjective thing - other players, on seeing players post about losing, assume they are doing so out of either generosity or genuine acknowledgment of inferior abilities.


Pretense is the reasoning by which the nation supposedly would do whatever it is that is represented by a card or the withdrawal of a card. They tend to become quite flimsy quite quickly.


Units are the primary way to build up military NRV. Endgame Weapons are a special class of unit appearing late in the game which accumulating subjective NRV every turn they are in service.



Empire building SD's can be set in a variety of settings but traditionally take place during the period of proper steam battleships.

Magic and Technology Ambitious GMs sometimes think magic and elves is a good way to spice things up in this tired genre. It's certainly possible to have an empire building SD in a world where there is some magic but not enough to really flip the table - or so they think. The reality is that players will instantly interpret "a bit of magic" as "a whole lot" and "my monarch is the world's greatest archmage". Expect entropy to be high right from the start and lots of Batman and Basara cards to hit the table in short order.

Alchemic Punk Alchemic Punk games try to compensate for the lack of variety in things countries get all up ons over by inserting magical materials and/or critters with supernatural properties into an otherwise ordinary world. Problems tend to arise when PCs interpret powerful mages or vampires as a magical material that they can start with.

1890-1895 This is the default date set for empire building games. Thanks to dreadnoughts being such a big thing in these games, it usually means they're allowed. This leads players to conclude that ALL technology is from 1906-1910 or so and that by extension, technology from 1914-1918 should be okay (so long as nobody else gets it) and that individual spots of 1920's isn't too far off.

Military Power


Land combat in empire building games differ in some fundamental ways to how it worked in real life. There is no attrition from hunger, disease or desertion unless specifically invoked; there are no difficulties in logistics nor limitations in sea transport unless specifically invoked; old guards never get in the way of progress; and the wounded statistic after each battle is an imaginary number.


German invasions of Poland and France 1939-1940
That the level of technology and doctrinal development is half a century in advance of most empire building games is irrelevant because the how and why of history are never so important as the possibility it inspires. What Germany taught empire building players isn't how or with what gear to fight; it is that France and Poland are noobs and that any country could be a "discovered noob" so long as you're German or affirm that you fight like them.

Vietnam War 1955-1975
No other historic conflict prescribes a better way to defeat Americans or indeed any other superior opponent. Other factors such as the enormous casualties sustained by Vietnamese themselves or strategic limitations imposed on US troops are swept under the rug. The only thing that matters is that Goliath lost to David. The Vietnam War teaches empire building players that insurgents fix everything. On the flip side, specific tactical successes within the Vietnam War are sometimes invoked as proof that all insurgents can themselves be fixed, so long as the political exists for which some expedient is always invoked to ensure that it does.


Regular Infantry
Players will generally contrive either pre-knowledge or quick and speedy acceptance of equipment known best practices with the technology available: infantry in a game set in 1895 will function like elite units from late 1918. Machineguns are of particular note in that virtually all players will assume their commanders and troops know exactly what impact these weapons will have on the face of war and always have as many as they need.





Armoured Cars



Control of the sea is key in any empire building game. Most maps place all player countries on one continent on all of the loot overseas on other continents. Even if the player continent has extra spaces, they are usually verboten as targets both to maintain room for new players and because other countries on the continent are presumeably on the same page militarily as the player countries and have strong consideration as hard targets. Few games tolerate significant home continent conquests well, especially if it occurs early, usually resulting either in the pacification of the offender or an early Ragnarok. Since viable colonial targets are overseas, land power is applicable only so far as the player isn't opposed by someone capable of winning a naval confrontation. Players who intended to form great empires without the support of a robust navy will usually realise their strategic error within a year in-game.

In most cases a naval confrontation is envisioned as a single gigantic sea battle where both sides muster every resource and ally available, often playing fast and loose with the time required to communicate, transit, plan, coordinate and execute such a battleplan. In this case, the total naval resources of each side are taken into account with numbers of ships of each class, clear and tangible country-level advantages in naval power and the minutiae statistics of each dreadnought playing the biggest part. All this, of course, plays second fiddle to the clear destabilising influence of such a battle. Uninvolved players will likely observe the conflict carefully and will play a part in dictating each side's losses in order to bring the game below criticality if necessary.

A more advanced use of naval power is the application of commerce interdiction, a principle which fewer players are likely to be familiar with because how it actually worked is historically more obscure to the average idiot. Legal fictions such as the right to blockade or inspect, to selectively reject trade from owned ports, nationalize assets, or the centuries obsolete "letter of marque" are sometimes invoked in the process. The end result, in any case, is a form of naval conflict that is considered more acceptable and therefore less destabilising to the game as a whole. In this scenario, resources besides dreadnoughts achieve greater prominence. The risk in this strategy is, as with all strategies, that a sufficiently disadvantaged player may opt to escalate.

In either case, the statistics of each navy's warships play a key role in determining the victor with the most visible and straightforward numbers such as thickness of the armour, caliber of gun and top speed trumping all others.

The dreadnought is every country's biggest toy, by which we do mean every country's. Even countries that don't start with them are sure to build them at some point - some start with none so they can poop out a pile of brand new ones and states professing a preference for the concept of cruisers will quickly find themselves backpedaling on their commitments often by the introduction of the Fast Battleship. Countries with no dreadnoughts at all may be dismissed as NPCs even if they're a PC who happens to be landlocked or entirely dedicated to land power. This is a threat which should not be discounted as an ill-respected earthbound player may soon be convinced that his only endgame option is to bring it about early.

The resulting offspring of yuri between a battleship and a cruiser with the best characteristics of both and, if the cruiser lobby had its way, the disadvantages of neither. Depending on the game, battlecruisers may sometimes become better rated than either dreadnoughts or cruisers as a measure of power. Naval encounters have more than once been determined by heated arguments of exactly where battlecruisers lie compared to dreadnoughts in the stand up encounters that they were never designed for. Regardless of who wins that particular debate, the aftermath of the conflict is likely to see the introduction of the Fast Battleship. More reasonable or better informed players will have more historically accurate assessments of a battlecruiser's role and usefulness (though our actual knowledge is almost entirely anecdotal) and be able to opt for either a German or British approach to the matter.

Armoured Cruiser
The armoured cruiser was a capital ship - often almost or as expensive as a contemporary battleship - designed for long range cruising between farflung colonies along sea lines of communication rather than straight up line battles like the battleship. Because straight up line battles are the only thing most players in empire games can grasp, they are considered less important and therefore cost much less than they likely otherwise would. Many players continue building armoured cruisers even while constructing their descendants, the battlecruisers due to a strong perception of them having different duties. Despite these shortcomings, armored cruisers are a very strong consideration when the term "commerce raiding" rears its head and act as a viable and expendable arm of force when a "real" capital ship is considered too provocative.

The armoured cruiser is likely to evolve into the Heavy Cruiser in as short an order as leading cruiser navies can muster up Pretense. Historically, armored cruisers grew in size and firepower and transformed into battlecruisers just after dreadnoughts arrived and were then artificially shrunk decades later to become heavy cruisers due to naval limitation treaties. In empire building games, heavy cruisers are the direct descendants of armored cruisers and serve exactly the same role except they have an excuse to use a superior statline.

Light Cruiser
The light cruiser is a useful tool both to defend against roving destroyer squadrons looking to execute a torpedo upset and to cause a ruckus in the far flung seas when no bigger ships are about.


Torpedo Boats


Cruising Submarine


Aircraft Carrier
The aircraft carrier is the queen of the sea because we know it to be true, seventy years in hindsight and that means forward thinking individuals given recognition for their forward thinkingness will also know it by 1905. As an Endgame Weapon, each and every aircraft carrier gains a permanent, cumulative increase to NRV every turn it is in service - once these are in play, the beginning of the end has arrived.


The sky is the last frontier of war and the most flexible because one can find widely differing opinions and sources on how effective aerial weapons are or could potentially be. Many air units are Endgame Weapons and their appearance is a sure sign that Ragnarok draws near.

Few players are aware of the disadvantages of having non-rigid construction so the term "semi-rigid" becomes an excuse to have your allotment of zeppelins and then add twice as many airships that are nearly as good.

Zeppelins vary in size from vessels WWI Germany would've been proud of (which is odd considering you're probably playing 20-25 years before WWI) to vessels the Technocracy imagined might have been possible if they were rich, bored and lead by Bruce Wayne. Real zeppelins carried a few machineguns and bombs but real zeppelins will carry rockets and cannons as well as armour qualified as either being limited to critical locations or be a deforming grill to catch shells. In practice, these fictional protections will be justified as preventing losses whenever possible and thus be just as effective as if the ships were wrapped in 12" of face-hardened plate.



Tactical Aircraft

Strategic Bombers

Ballistic Missiles