From the Introduction:
The Grand Design is a live role-playing system designed for political and interactive role-playing in the world of the Imperial Archipelago. This is a closed world similar in ways, yet unlike our own; a world of decaying Imperial grandeur, strange magics, mysterious spirits and Machiavellian politics. The players take the roles of the subjects of the Realms, the autonomous regions of the Imperium, and their leaders, at any political level from the simplest of farmers, up through the merchants and soldiers of the Realm, to the very court of the Realm Lords who sit in Imperial Synod. Groups of players come together to play characters from one of the established Realms or in conjunction with the referees, design their own Imperial Realm and it's economy, type and style of rulership, and portray it as they see fit.
The primary thrust of the game is political; manoeuvring between Realms, up to and including open armed conflict, is common, and the system includes both a complex system for trading in downtime, an established economy (with some very unpleasant moneylenders) and a system of political advancement limited only by the skill of the player in climbing the greasy pole. No part in this system is debarred to players; it is conceivable that a player character could one day become the new occupant of the Malachite Throne and rule the entire Archipelago.
However, the politics are not all that make the world of the Archipelago go round. There are areas of the Archipelago still wild and uncontrolled by the Imperium; a daring adventurer with a large enough force or enough skill could even carve out a new realm from such, gaining themselves a seat on Synod and status as a Realm Lord, or indeed a faith could gain enough influence in a given realm that it's leader could supplant the Realm Lord; there are several theocratic Realms, and several where status as a sorcerer of one stripe or another is regarded as the qualification for political power. For those for whom political ambition is not alluring, there are mysteries of magic and existence, questions of philosophy to ponder and new places to explore. The glory days of the Imperium are gone but not forgotten and new glories are waiting to be created. Much of the oldest and subtlest arts have been lost to time and neglect, but could be rediscovered by the dedicated.
For those to whom the mundane is no longer interesting, there is the allure of testing your wits against the cold uncaring stars for the Astrologers, against the cunning and subtle spirits of the Spirit Families for the Rhabdomancers, and of placing your thumb on the very balance of life and death for the Natural Philosophers. Magic is a fact of life among the islands and scattered Realms of the Imperial Archipelago, and many such ply their trades; from the village astrologer who establishes the times and places to seed the crops for a rural village to the court Rhabdomancer summoning his familiars to bargain for charms and favours for his Realm Lord. Magic exists at every level of life. Or if meddling with the Subtil Arts is not to your taste, explore the myriad cults and faiths of the Imperium; some powerful, some proscribed, some influential, some remembered only by lone hermits deep in the mountains. Men of faith can work miracles; to deny it is, surely to invite the wrath of Those Above And Below...
If it is a life of adventure and drama that you seek but neither the Subtil Arts nor the political games of Court appeal, then become an Imperial Herald; the messengers of the Imperium, they travel from realm to realm promulgating Imperial Edicts, protected by Imperial law and enforced by the Imperial Sea Guard. Heralds bring news from realm to realm, and are often in the forefront of exploration and mapping efforts; they stand separate from all allegiance to the Realm Lords, answering only to the Master Herald, who answers only to the Emperor.
Or if meddling with markets is more to your taste then play a Merchant, there are many interesting commodities produced within the Empire and the demand for them fluctuates. If you are clever enough you can gain favour, wealth and influence through shrewd trading. Pit your wits against other merchants and rise to power within the secretive and cut-throat Merchants Houses.
It is our intent to run the game as an ongoing campaign, with opportunities for character advancement through experience and the players' wits. We will run one, perhaps two if it becomes successful, events per year, and we do not envisage any "sanctioned event" system. In terms of player involvement with the campaign, the referees must sanction all Realm and character backgrounds; silence is not assent and until a background is confirmed, it is not applicable. The referees reserve the right to fold, spindle and mutilate the backgrounds of the player-designed realms for the greater good of the campaign; however, it should be taken as a given that if any such changes are made they will be to make the campaign background a richer place and draw players in further, not to make your lives especially unpleasant. Well, that may not be strictly true...
Note also that the Imperial Archipelago is a closed world. There is almost no contact with anyone outside the cordon of the Sea Princes, and no character races other than those outlined are permitted. No travellers from "outside", no mysterious strangers, and (of course) no half-breeds. This is a new world, full of mystery and wonder. Explore it for yourself before coming to it as a stranger.
As a final aside; "Grand Design" is indeed an IC term. It will mean little or nothing to the starting characters. But for those wise enough to play the game, uncovering, and really understanding the Grand Design is the key to the entire Archipelago and beyond...