Amber

GM responsibility and extending the rules

In a post from last year, I offered this:

My GM solution to gaps in the rules (or a PC’s back story) is that this is where the GM has to step up and make it all reinforce the narrative. How can I strengthen the story? How can I speed up the game? How can I make the group thread together more strongly? How can I illustrate the wonder of the Grand Stair through these little details, and also make it more exciting for me to be part of the canvas shepherding this narrative along?

So when do you extend rules (as Player or GM) and when to you keep RAW (Rules As Written)?

[edits follow, thanks to comments by Kit Kindred]

Perhaps your philosophy of GMing is that there should be no GM story challenge, no overall narrative, that in fact, everything the Player Characters want to do is ALL that is driving the game. This role then is the GM as a living referee judge. In a case like this, you may seek to stay as close to RAW as possible. Don’t invent new powers, as they will have a bias of the GM’s invention. Don’t invent new civilizations, but grab them from the PCs vague descriptions of worlds they are seeking. Don’t invent villains, as you can make them purely from NPCs opposed to the goals the PCs have discussed or agreed to.

Certainly do not twist powers or abilities within the framework of the game rules to do new things or favor a single PC. And since no rule set is perfect, what do you do when the PCs discover a flaw or bust in the rules? Probably the thing to do is to sit down with the gaming group and talk it through.

The example is spurious, and not terribly serious:

“The experience rules are broken weird, because Ted can take his character to the Bwang Confederation, where he has Control of Time Flow, where he forces time to 36 times the rate in the Stair. He can set up battles, cause wars, and challenge monsters there, and when he comes back in a month to rejoin the group, his PC has gained an experience point per year that gives him 3 points the rest of the group does not have. What do you all think? How shall we address this issue?”

Hopefully this sort of rules jiggering is not normal in your group.

Don’t think as a GM you can solve a group dynamic, or mechanics issue without an out-of-game conversation. The reason for fun is a group experience. It’s a game shared, so share the solutions to the bumps and pitfalls.

 

Why would the GM create or tweak additions to published RAW? Why read the rules and decide to do things differently? A short list of reasons could be:

  • Many Players do not want to read the rules, and therefore have no interest or background to judge the mechanics. For this group, the GM is trusted to keep things working and fair. This will mean invention and tweaks from the GM.
  • Many rule sets have been play-tested for months, but games can last years, and go places that the designers never foresaw. Narrative or mechanic problems may arise.
  • Some Players will skim the rule set, note things that are objectionable to fun, and ask for tweaks. Ask me about my (insert politics here) agenda! As just one example of this, the canon Zelazny Amber material includes torture and patriarchal gender slams.
  • Sometimes a rule set misses the genre by a little or a lot. A Buffy game where the strength of women is -3? No way. A gods game where there is secretly a power the gods don’t know about? Well, that sounds odd. A game emulating a book where the main book protagonist turns out to be evil and must be stopped? Why did I buy this game?
  • Power levels are assumed in the rule set, but what if you’d like a smaller story, with PCs who have less power? Or what if the group wants to play the monsters but not the mortals?

A longer examination of reasons could be knowing your audience and/or having a big picture in mind, and the idea that a few tweaks will reinforce the world building in a way that is not clear in the original rule set. This gets off in the direction of mashup rules and perhaps is beyond the point.

And when the rule set tries to define an Infinite Stair, one might expect no single rule book is going to cover it all. That why supplements and extensions are fun.

Save

convention-al gaming meme

Yes, there is a meme going around where you name 10 bands you’ve seen in concert except one is a false flag. Or you name 10 RPGs you’ve played and one isn’t true.
So here you go, somehow when I woke this morning, I had a list of games I’ve offered at Ambercons. But which one is fake? How many have you enjoyed?

House of Justice and Doom
House of Intrigue and Foxes
House of Midnight and Fire
To Gran Ma Mare’s House we go…
Changing Hands
The Pendrad
House of Shroudlings: a Farewell to Spikards
House of Daring and Laughter
The Black Watch Must Die!
StairWay Perilous!
The Dead Tell ‘Know Tales’
When you have Illuminated the Impossible
Empire of the Gleaming Banner
Bloody Grievance
Five Sides to Every Story
Agents of the Argent Rose
Clandestine Chronicles of the Cobalt Charter
The Soft Cimmerian

Oh… well ten or eighteen the list size does not matter. Have fun!

No, there is not a prize for finding the fake one.

Brothers, Sisters, may the Force be With Them…

On the death of Carrie Fisher, my thoughts whirl to Amber history of kick-ass fictional protagonists.

Observations on the family by Corwin (who is wrong a lot): number of Oberon’s offspring (pg numbers maybe Great Book of Amber, see this page):

Page 60, “There had been fifteen brothers and six were dead. There had been eight sisters, and two were dead, possibly four.”

Page 173, “Actually, I am surprised that the family is not much larger. The thirteen of us, plus two brothers and a sister I knew who were now dead, represent close to fifteen hundred years of parental production. There had been a few others also, of whom I had heard, long before us, who had not survived. Not a tremendous batting average for so lusty a liege, but then none of had proved excessively fertile either.”

So any thoughts readers?

IMC (in my campaign) it shakes down this way, bold are dead when Corwin comments, italic are my invention:

brothers!

Forgotten times (?), many

Ancient era (3), Benedict, Osric, Finndo

Historic era (8), Eric, Corwin, Bleys, Brand, Caine, Julian, Gerard, Random

Modern era (4), Delwin, Dastard, DeWinter, Dalt

“…and six were dead.” Which per Corwin works if he believes Dalt, Osric, Finndo, and three unknowns are gone (say all of Deela’s kids). It is canon that Benedict killed Dalt in battle (except he survives). Do you make something of these unknown brothers when you play the game? Serious threats to the throne?

Do you ever involve the Forgotten?

IMC (in my campaign) it shakes down this way, bold are dead when Corwin comments, italic are my invention:

sisters!

Forgotten times (?), many

Ancient era (2), Nanna, ShaRa

Historic era (4), Deidre, Fiona, Llewella, Florimel

Modern era (4), Mirelle, Sand, DoBlique, Coral

“…and two were dead, possibly four.” Which per Corwin works if he believes Nanna and ShaRa are certainly dead, while Mirelle and DoBlique are probably dead. We know that Someone has died walking the Pattern, because even though no one wants to talk about it, there is some Ancient era, or Forgotten era ‘well known’ case that everyone is aware of within the history.

IMC, that is Nanna, who dies mid-Pattern. In Roger’s other words elsewhere, it may be Mirelle, or not. My numbers don’t match Corwin’s eight sisters. Coral and DoBlique can be excused from Cowin knowing which end is up.

Notice how I arranged the unknowns to useful backstory purpose. ‘Modern names’ are not important enough in Corwin’s eyes. Ancient names are pretty much gone before Corwin is born but are lessons to be learned.

IMC, the lessons are: Osric and Finndo, betrayal of the Throne. Nanna, deadliness of the Pattern. ShaRa, the power of the Bloodcurse at death.

Again, do you ever involve the Forgotten?

Crossing the Forbidden, and not Breaking the Universe, and GM responsibility

Some various thoughts about Shapeshifting in the LoGaS discussion group.LoGaS

The short answer is, yes, I’ve used these (shapeshifting) rule tweaks in my campaign and in convention play. I try not to use convention play for any examples, because I feel Players in a 4 to 8 hour game that only happens once (or maybe continues) will do madcap things and make choices that are certainly NOT long-term immortal mindset.

YMMV

IMC (in my campaign), the GM is very forthcoming with OOC warnings, and impartial to Players going across forbidden lines where they might/shall lose control of some aspect of their PC. Sometimes that becomes a story about ‘getting back’ to normal once the crisis is over. Sometimes it becomes a learning experience where the PC discovers something new about themselves.

Generally, I find Players do NOT want their PC changed by the GM and so they take these warnings seriously. In conventions, I see a more mixed reaction, where the Player may see more ‘spotlight time’ if they take the chance and dance across the Forbidden. There are certainly some Players who are OK torturing their PC concept and grabbing more face time with the GM.

As I say above, I’m pretty open and informative as a GM. I consider my advice to Players as not only their own Expertise (Attribute wise and/plus immortal experience) but also I definitely want it to be more than clear that if you go into a Forbidden Art, you may find you lose something of your original PC concept. Or you may find something new and wondrous about your PC, or perhaps you’ll just be trapped in a story line about how much your PC regrets having pulled that trigger. As seems obvious in the rulebook, owning a power sometimes means living with a certain forced perception.

As the GM, I’m your partner in perception. Just like Stuff changes how you interact with the Universe, and how people tend to see your PC, I think bigger pools of power, Exalted, or Primal, or Terrifying, etc, will tend to warp your PC’s perceptions to align with the power.

In other words, is Dworkin mad, or does he just see the Universe in a way no one else does?

GM responsibility here is not to steal authority from the Player or deprotagonize him/her, but to act as the altered perception filter. This is certainly dangerous territory for the Game Master. A bit too much, and the Player thinks you’ve ruined the PC. A bit too little, and it appears the Universe rewards crazy risks with insane amounts of unearned power.

What is the guide? Most rules do not actually address crossing the line into Forbidden Arts.

I think the guide is actually story tension. The GM and the Player both want the story to have tension. It isn’t going to be fun if the choices are gone. It’s not going to be fun if the tension is gone, or if the GM keeps saying, ‘No, your new bloodlust means you attack your friends on sight’. At the same time, it cannot be ALL FUN because there are costs to breaking the Forbidden. And the PC cannot be unchanged because they DID choose to touch/claim/swallow the Forbidden.

It’s also not bad if the other PCs are now looking at the changed PC as if they are a train wreck. Story tension, in effect, for everyone.