Quite by accident (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) a spambot directed me to check in with the 20×20 Room where I found the old entry on Game Craft regarding lack of support for how to make a game work once you know the rules.
What’s that? You imagine that once you know the rules, or have read the game book from cover to cover you just need players and a bunch of game prep?
Uh, no. If only it were that simple.
You see, GMs make mistakes, forget their own maxims, and even misjudge the ‘fun’ in every session at least once. Every session. “At play” stuff most rulebooks ignore.
When was the last time you read rules for ‘fixing’ a bad GM call?
I ran a D&D game that lasted off and on for twenty years and I blew up the campaign with an error in judgment I didn’t see coming. Isn’t hindsight a marvelous thing?
Trust me, I didn’t handle it so well in actual practice.
That fallen game was with friends.
Friends who wanted the game to succeed.
Friends who had been gaming very successfully for years.
And the game died because of out-of-character miscommunication and PC goals in conflict with canon, not lousy rules or bad play.
Elsewhere, Amber DRPG has been noted as a game that is tough to play well. (Bias note: this linked forum does not conduct polite posting. Beware clicking and engaging.) This notion that Amber DRPG isn’t for beginners is not a new idea either. Lucky for us all, lots of folks have posted free advice.
With all the immortal competency involved in Amber genre, GMing doesn’t usually work if you try to ‘gimmick’ your way past a PC’s skills and determination. You have to respect those PC niches and powers and points. It jolts really fast if a GM tries to handwave these elements away. The interrupt of ‘GM railroading’ can break your belief in the game premise incredibly fast for any game, dice or not, character-driven or not—but in Amber DRPG it is kryptonite.
Without excellent communication (in and out of game) with the GM, you risk your connect with the game world and belief in your PC’s competency.
In my experience, this would be true in the wild semi-surreal world of Over The Edge or in a humorously fatal world of Paranoia. If you don’t work with the GM, if you try to stay in-game when you have an out-game confusion that your Character should not have, you will break your connect to the premise and lose your way. If you hide Player issues from the GM while trying to solve these items with PC responses, you will lose your way. To paraphrase an infamous bit of philosophy:
If you continue to do something that isn’t working expecting some different result, you are probably going to be Very Disappointed and Hugely Pissed at the point things finally break.
Some games offer GM advice and examples of tough calls—most do not. Amber DRPG is considered by some to have excellent examples of play. Others gamers find the GM advice to be spare or pointedly wrong.
You see how tough this is?
I refer you all, once again, to the invaluable Amber Tips by Epoch. Here are pages and pages of GM advice specific to setting up and running a game of Amber. There are a few gems for the Players of the game too. The how and why of such choices is lovingly detailed for your benefit.
From the Player side of things, you might want to save a copy of Tony LB’s essay here on Amber PCs. While brief, there are some great points made.
And here are a few more thoughts:
- feedback— it never hurts to take a break and say, “thanks, I’m having a good time” or “I just don’t get this thing that happened last session, can we go over that again before we start?” Try to do this ‘offline’ or when it doesn’t block other players.
- even in an action scene, remember that the more complex the conflict, the longer the build-up to that conflict, the more critical it is to ‘break down’ the scene and pace decisions to allow maximum flow of PC choice. Do not squash PC opportunity to make plot or NPCs look better.
The short version: as drama increases—slow down time and speed up info
In my profession, some folks call such advice “measure twice and cut once”
- as the GM and Players are mortally flawed, even more so make the NPCs flawed, especially if they are not mortal or very powerful. Zelazny’s canon makes this clear: immortals are flawed in very human ways—that’s part of their interest to us.
In My Campaign these days, a PC has set herself against the Fae several times. That strange race happens to be older than Chaos and twice as powerful magically. IMC the Fae play tricks on gods; they are older than all shadow civilizations.
Yet the Fae don’t master every scene. They shove the PCs about but do not negate them. They make mistakes. They don’t know everything.
The story is not about the Fae, it is about the PCs. Really. Trust me on this.
- the more impressive the story conflict opposition, the more awesome the PC response will be
That should be guaranteed in an Amber game and shall be if you give your Players the chance.
Empower the awesome responses of the PCs
- share the fun, acknowledge the social activity with little “side perks”
meals might be time to talk about movies or books rather than the game you are already playing. Variety makes the fun better and creates better understanding between players
- encourage a formal OOC (out-of-character) outlet that isn’t mixed with in-game responses
The game will run smoother and character voice is stronger if folks know where/when to put their OOC comments. Encourage summary questions by email the day after a game when everyone has digested play! Before each session start a genre prologue! Groups can discuss how to set up these OOC flags as part of the social dynamic they seek.
- Fairy tale games often begin with ‘Once upon a time’.
Imagine that Amber games might begin with Zelazny’s ‘It was starting to end’… and the GM summarizes previous play or foreshadows the new session.
Why? It’s a formal flag that gaming has started and encourages folks to prepare their character voice. It’s a shorthand reminder for everyone very like the title on a chapter.
What sort of tips can you share about tough GMing choices?