Fourth time's the charm, I guess. If this post gets eaten like the ones that came before it, I'm going to assume that any attempt to analyze Imperial factions is cursed.
Which is fitting, when you think about it, because Imperial factions tend to operate under their own sort of curse. See, everyone understands that Sith are the bad guys, but no one really looks at a particularly bastardly example of a Sith and thinks "you know, I bet that guy who just murdered an orphanage is really an orphanage murderer in real life." People just assume that they're playing a character and leave it at that.
On the flip side, Imperial factions, especially the ones that stay relatively close to their canon counterparts, are often denied that same courtesy. "Man, that guy writes a really compelling fascist. I bet he's a fascist in real life." This failure to disassociate the writer and the character is an unfortunate but integral part of the makeup of Imperialist factions, and one must understand how before one can begin to understand the factions themselves.
To find the origins of this phenomenon, one has to look no further than the canon Empire and its ancestors and progeny.
It's no secret that Lucas borrowed heavily from history and mythology the world over to create Star Wars, and he wasn't at all subtle about doing it. The influences of Nazi Germany are immediate and obvious where the Empire is concerned, and the most recent trilogy doubled down on those influences with the First Order.
For a filmmaker, taking cues from Nazi Germany was a no-brainer when it came to constructing the evil Empire. People instinctively understand at first glance that they're supposed to root against them; the hatred for fascism in general and Nazis in particular is so ingrained into the collective consciousness of most of the world that we subconsciously make the connection between Empire and Nazi simply based off visual cues. We know these people are rotten to the core without having to be told.
While this makes for undeniably effectively storytelling, it creates a problem for Star Wars roleplay, because the Empire is as integral a part of the fabric of Star Wars as Jedi or the Force.
In terms of fandom, it is completely possible to wear a T-shirt with the Imperial Cog on it and not draw any sort of ire. Between the passage of time and various attempts to humanize the Empire, demonstrating a fondness for them is not going to get you labeled as a Nazi sympathizer in everyday life.
The same cannot be said for Star Wars RP, because to write an effective Imperial is to channel all those things that made the Empire, and in turn the Nazis, so hated in the first place.
So what makes an effective Imperial faction?
Well, for starters, it helps to have an Emperor, or some similar role such as Supreme Leader. The Emperor may be a character, often a Palpatine Sith, but it's not uncommon to see an NPC Emperor. There are advantages and disadvantages to either approach from a practical standpoint. A strong personality with an effective support team can and often will lead a faction more effectively than the rule by committee approach that so often plagues factions that have an NPC Emperor, but whereas a committee isn't beholden to the whims and availability of a single, often egotistical individual, the same cannot be said of an Empire led by a single writer. Such factions typically only last as long as the original leader stays active and involved, and no faction will nosedive as quickly as an Empire whose leader doesn't actually know how to lead.
In order to capture the feel of the OG Empire, Imperial factions are almost always authoritarian. Personal freedoms and individuality fall by the wayside in favor of duty and unity of purpose. Though that doesn't always mean that life for their subjects is a living hell, dissenters and insurgents are met with overwhelming force.
Imperial factions also tend to be heavily militaristic. Granted, every faction in a competitive roleplay site that wishes to exist for more than a fraction of a second has a strong military, but for Imperial factions, military RP can make up the bulk of the writers and characters. After all, one doesn't rule the galaxy with an iron fist without legions of stormtroopers to crack heads. A key variation for Imperial factions, as opposed to more lightside-oriented groups, is that their military characters are often surprisingly well developed. Where as an average Republic analogue might only break out their army for fights, an Imperial faction uses theirs heavily in everyday RP.
Tactically, Imperial factions tend to favor overwhelming force and brutality in the face of just about any foe, much like the canon Empire. You will occasionally see someone with a gift for strategy and tactics and a penchant for moderation, but the usual approach is to hit the target with a sledgehammer, and then Base Delta Zero whatever chunks remain.
Appearance and style are also key to making an Empire feel like the Empire. Rank and naming conventions, avatars, and character behaviors are often modeled closely after the examples provided by the movies. In some instances, the writers might take further inspiration from the Empire and go straight to the source: Nazi Germany. This is a dangerous path to take, as it often serves to reinforce the negative connotations associated with Imperial factions.
And, finally, Imperial factions rely heavily on propaganda to paint themselves in a positive light while making their enemy appear to be the force of evil. A skilled propagandist is both a blessing and a curse for an Empire. While the IC effect can be profound, effective propaganda really, really pisses off the crowd already inclined to view Imperial writers as little more than scum. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say "I love how they're trying to be make themselves out to be the good guys, but then they go and do X," I could buy myself a Star Destroyer.
In many ways, the presence of a healthy Imperial faction or three is a good way to gauge the overall health of an RP board. An Imperial faction can only exist with the tolerance of other writers, even if that tolerance is reluctant. If you pop up on a new RP board and notice there's no Imperial faction, ask what happened to the last one. If their answer is some variation of "we ran the bastards off," back away slowly and try not to make eye contact. It's entirely possible that the faction in question was comprised of a bunch of assholes that merged into one super nerf herder that oozed with a martyr complex (more on that later), but either way you're probably stepping onto a thinly boarded over salt mine.
Now, because Imperial factions so often get the short end of the stick, it's easy for those who gravitate towards said factions to feel like they've been treated unfairly. It happens often enough, after all, that it's easy to make that assumption. But before you drop to your hands and knees to lap up the salty goodness that has crystallized at your feet, it's very important that you ask yourself this one simple question: am I a pariah because I write a really good Imperial, or am I a pariah because I'm an unmitigated douchebag with no redeeming features whatsoever?
This is a very important question to ask, because assuming that everyone hates you and that the admin are out to get you has a way of becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.
See, even the most hardcore of Imperial haters will grudgingly admit that not everyone who writes an Imperial is a closet fascist. They may only do so after several hours of interrogation and a lethal overdose of sodium pentothal, but they will own up to the fact while wildly grasping at straws in an attempt to justify their prejudice. The average writer may look askance at someone who uses an Inglorious Basterds playby, but they're at least open to the idea that maybe they're not a bad person.
That ends the moment the Imperial in question starts to assume that everyone hates them, and decides to act accordingly. The easiest way for a victim of prejudice, real or imagined, to alienate possible supporters is to assume that those supporters are prejudiced before ever sitting down to talk to them.
In the real world, you can argue that victims of prejudice and oppression are justified in taking an actively hostile stance against those they perceive as their oppressors. That argument goes right out the window when the reason you're being discriminated against is because of your desire to write Space Hitler.
If you want to write an Imperial without alienating everyone you ever loved, the simple solution is to accept that people are going to hate you, and respond with good humor and grace. The key here is to manage public perceptions. In private, you might be freaking livid. Get that out of your system behind closed doors. If someone takes a run at you, or you find out they've been talking smack, don't acknowledge them if at all possible. If you have to field a response of some kind, crack a joke. Don't be mean or vicious, just smile and laugh and treat it like it's all one big joke. In a public dispute, opinion tends to come down on the side that remains cool, calm, and composed. The ability to laugh at yourself will go a long way towards swaying the public to your side.
As always, my inbox and the comments section are open if you've questions, comments, concerns, or curse words. And, as always, comments that go above and beyond the call of duty in pursuit of outstanding stupidity will be deleted. Thanks for reading.