GM responsibility and constraints on PC backgrounds

Some various thoughts about GM constraints on world building vs Player Character backgrounds over at Facebook.LoGaS

Christopher LaHaise says:

The thing is, I prefer not having to extrapolate as a game master. If it isn’t explicitly said in the game book, then it doesn’t ‘exist’ officially. And I like things being tidy and official. I’ve noticed with LoG&S I’ve had to do a lot of extrapolating, and this kind of annoys me from time to time, because it means if I’m comparing notes between my view of how RAW with another GM, there’s going to be crossed wires. And that might become more problematic when we’re talking characters.

‘Well, my character did XYZ, because of these reasons’.
‘Err, that kind of physics doesn’t work in my setting, because of these other reasons’.

For example – how does a Gossamer L&L (Lord or Lady–ed.) take over a world and ‘claim it’? Is it a ritual? Is it just by being there long enough? Is it sheer force of will? Do they have to go someplace special? Does it involve use of power? All of these? None of these?

How does a L&L make artifacts? How do they make companions? Where do these come from? This is the kind of thing I often wonder as a game master, and what I REALLY want to know as a player.

IMC (in my campaign), the GM is very involved with approval of PC creation and background. This is not always the case with other GMs I’ve played with. Sometimes, a GM asks if you have questions, and if you don’t, the GM says ‘ok we start next weekend’ and you are off and running.

Christopher’s question above, touches on a reason why I consistently want to know more about your PC, and generally ‘sign off’ on what you have written into the PC’s backstory. Because every Player in my game is authoring legends and possibilities to the universe just by creating a Player Character. If I cannot wrap my head around the idea of your PC, or the legends that brought them into the game, then I’m not going to be as supportive of your intent as Player.

And that’s not good for the game, the GM, or the group going forward. That is a misunderstanding waiting to happen.

Case in point:

I write and run many convention games. I review the PC creations (weeks before the game is run) even though we are only likely to play that game for 4 to 6 hours. In recent memory, I ended up with a complete disconnect in the game as run between the Player intent and the GM narrative, even though I had exchanged a half dozen lengthy emails with the Player about the PC background to hone the creation process and wrap my head around what the Player wanted.

The Player made clear that the PC was very fond of outwitting Royals of Amber, and sticking it to them in their areas of expertise. But the PC was always willing to help ‘fix up’ the pranks and conflicts that resulted from showing up the Royal. The PC was supposed to be a ‘shake hands and all’s fair’ sort, within the Family Game.

But in actual play, behind the scenes of this PC legend, there were forces set into motion to take down this PC because of the string of successes and public pranks inflicted on the powerful. Payback was brewing.

End result, things blew up, and yet the Player was sideswiped by a storyline he did not see coming. The Player did not have fun, and I had to apologize for a rough finish to the game over the disconnect between us.

The importance of the anecdote is not just GM fallibility, but the idea that helping clarify the PC concept gives both sides better idea of the narrative and ‘fences’ of the story to come. Without some idea of PC backstory ‘why?’ and legend, you don’t have fuel for immersive narrative collaboration.

Now the other part of Christopher’s question is about what is ‘official’ and what isn’t between the rules, the game, and other GMs. What does the rule set say about creating things the rules have not specifically included?

Well. Um.

Actually, while Lords of Gossamer and Shadow is a step up in clear communication from the predecessor Amber Diceless Role Playing Game, the power of a diceless game and the collaborative space between a GM and Player is the actual fuel for expanding and making the game your own. So specifically, if the Player doesn’t write it into their background, it does not exist in the Player’s half of the collaborative space.

That does not mean it doesn’t exist in the GM’s half of that collaboration. It has to.

So the answer to Christopher’s question is, extrapolate the missing info, or invent something, or ask more questions of the Player, and/or provide a placemark in your GM notes for the Universe to have some mechanism for answering that missing info. So like some twisted version of the old Champions game, you do have to pick your ‘special effects’ with your PC story.

Did your PC legend come from scifi or magic? Well then, your dominion of a Gossamer world probably involves that same source. The hitech gal learns the ultimate hack codes. The sorcerer supreme fella finally takes over from the Ancient One.

Does your companion have special powers in a mundane package? Again you really should get the Player to tie this into their back story. How did you meet the shapeshifter horse you ride through the Grand Stair? Where did you acquire the golden belt that becomes a 30 foot tall beast?

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?

For the Player or GM that finds this kind of sudden improvisation rather challenging or producing anxiety, it may be good to have a cheat sheet list of mysteries/narratives that can source your answer.

This list might be a genre list, or something from the Tropes wiki so you can avoid cliche. Perhaps showing this to the Player prompts them to give the GM the missing bit of info, or a promise to write up a little paragraph about the Artifact or Extra Power.

And then you can decide how it fits into the Greater Puzzles the Player does not know about yet.


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.


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.

Ambercon 2016 report: Pendrad! elegant Fae masters of mayhem

LoGaSSo yes, my experiment with the diceless RPG Lords of Gossamer and Shadows, continued at the latest Ambercon 2016 (#acus2016).

Pendrad! had another turn this year.  And the third time is the charm. I felt all the elements of the new system performed well, and the PCs were driving well inside the Infinite Stair.

In sketchy form, the game began with reminders for the PCs of the team of Fae involved, and news that a member of the team from previous adventures had been killed. Death among the Fae being very tragic business.

Game Start: Intel that the Countess has been killed near Chaos. Intel that Chaos intends to destroy ‘LALA’ and her world. Khans assign the PCs to find ‘LALA’, her world, and to divert Chaos. Team enters the Pendrad.

The Fae are pretty terrific at staying out of sight and you don’t know what they’ve seen, where they’ve been, (and the part the Khans like best) what they are up to. For your normal Amber Players, this is a 180 degree turn around.

However, events conspired to have the Fae Facilitators find out the Agora was being taken over by Bastiano troops and the Chaosians were already aware of where ‘LALA’ was located. About halfway into the game, the Fae were tracking down a huge incursion of Chaosi troops into the Grand Stair itself.

Everything that the Khans had been concerned about is coming to pass. Chaos will own the Stair or break the Lords within it until they do own it.

And the eventual story was confrontation. The team decided their mission instruction gave them lease to take the Chaos faction out before they could report back to Thelbane on their information.  And then they confronted 2 Logrus Masters, 5 sorcerers, 3 enslaved sorcerers, 5 knights of the black zone, and 20,000 armed slave heavy infantry.

This was not exactly an ideal way to test the LoGaS combat rules in my Fae/Amber/Grand Stair mashup.

However, it went very well. The Khans had appointed a leader, the PCs had adjusted to the dynamic, and the Leader managed to sift and sketch a battle plan that each of the various Fae saw used their strengths and wile to best effect. The battle was a thing of terrible beauty (which is mostly how this GM sees the Fae in my expansion of Amber mythology.)

The 2 Logrus Masters were the High Priority Targets, of course. Neither of them managed to complete the Summons of the Logrus. So basically in game speak, they were crippled before two rounds of combat passed. Even their shapeshifting heals did not prevent the coup de grace moves from taking them out immediately after they went down.

I think Corwin would have applauded. I was pleased and relieved I did not need to restart the game.

Perhaps the most significant strategy was the Fae never had to chat about any actions from plan to action, once things started, the Fae did not stop until the Stair was a flood of bodies and blood. They wiped them out and then left quietly.

Lady Vala and Shatterlight will not have a battle with Chaos forces, and no one is the wiser.


Do Rebmans have cats?

Well, you had to poke and prod.  Consider that you brought this on yourselves.



As you land dwellers do not call your familiars and domestics ‘air dog’ or ‘air cow’, please do not refer to the Softs of Rebma as ‘aqua cats’.
Generally, the cats of Amber are deficient of voices and do not sing. They have territorial manners similar to Softs, but a cat’s claws can always be found on its paws and Amber cats do not walk in and out of mirrors.
In Amber, misunderstandings with cats are said to lead to bad luck or scratches. Indeed, in the shadows there are reflected some serious supernatural powers associated with Amber cats, including in some parts that women need not marry a husband, or might fly a broom if a cat is so inclined.
In Rebma, speaking to a Soft often precludes any misunderstandings. Befriending a Soft, can lead to a life-long drinking companion and you may be invited to sing-a-longs, for which Softs gather on almost a weekly basis. Whales often swim in to add their voices to the Soft Choir, especially those holiday times of year. Softs do not fly, but they are excellent swimmers, of course. Softs do not marry, and honestly why should they? Brooms are stupid and no Soft would tolerate one in the house.
While you can never find a Soft’s claws, they are extremely potent, and capable of rending all metal, except for gold and silver. A Soft in a fury may actually manifest hidden claws larger than the entire size of the Soft. There is no truth to the folklore that Softs can become invisible or wield magic (though again, in the shadows the rules are very different) but Softs are known to read futures, and drag the occasional dead guisel home from a mirror adventure.
Best information on Softs, including the care and friendship of, can be found in consultation with the Navigator Guild of Rebma, which history informs, was founded by the Soft Klepto, once beloved of Lir.

LoGaS the powers of gossamer, control of contents


From the community google+
Control of Contents is narrative driven.
Changes follow the flow of powers or disruption results.
Order powers require more context support.
Chaos/Sorcery powers require less context support.
Deletion or Cosmic changes disrupt context.
Context disruption leans to Entropy.
Context is crucial to Order changes and scale requires:

* small changes happen using world pieces in place already
* medium changes build from many small changes or may require the addition of a new world components that facilitate the change–else most folks will know something unique changed. Unless the world is full of unobservant folk (gossamer for dummies).
* large changes build from many medium changes or may require the addition of many new components to facilitate the change.
* cosmic changes guarantee some confusion and chaos. The world may be unrecognizable.

I think each GM would then handle where on the scale the PC proposed change would be.

as befitting a Prince of Amber…

Sergeant Oddball: “These engines are the fastest in any tanks in the European Theater of Operations, forwards or backwards. You see, man, we like to feel we can get out of trouble, quicker than we got into it.” ‘Kelly’s Heroes’
If you were a Prince/Princess of Amber walking the worlds… the above casual comment from Sgt. Oddball is a worthy bit of experience. It is my guiding principle is answering questions from experienced family members for those younger or more impatient.
The first threshold of immortal experience might be, “why do I care?”
The second threshold might be, “how likely am I to be treated ill-fitting a scion of Amber?”
For the large range of shadow walking adventure, your own innate doubt and caution will influence your shadow travel in a safe fashion. The Rule of Three applies. But there is always the arrogance of “I know what I am doing” or the impatient of “I want it now”.
The best rule of thumb for all this is, “ask for what you know” …much like a strange restaurant in a new town.
If you’ve never had pickled Cthulhu…why you don’t know what you are missing. But Fiona does.
oh, btw, comments on the front page are broken again. Not to worry…you can comment on any individual entry just by clicking through to it.

Rank the elders! Warfare

Rank the elders! Warfare
Leaving out the dead folks…. because that would get into a long story about who trained Benedict and the scions of Oberon that everyone has forgotten.
Oberon (no one’s trickier)
Benedict (undisputed)
Eric (holds Amber against external enemies as well as Corwin AND Bleys, fighting as well as Corwin)
Corwin (even better one on one, this style being developed for a couple Earth centuries, as Eric finds out, dirty tricks specialist)
Dierdre (better with social warfare than all the men above, even Oberon)
Bleys (Master of Armies)
Julian (Master of Constructs, monster fighting specialist)
Caine (Fleet Commander, unconventional warfare specialist)
Florimel (political warfare specialist)
Gerard (Fleet Commander, political warfare specialist)
Llewella (exotic environ warfare specialist)
Random (demonstrates enough endurance, strength, and magical talent in the canon that he can’t be really tough on warfare)
So we go from several thousand years of a King in Amber who is total Warfare savvy to a King in Amber who is least among his sibs in Warfare.
Across the range of shadow civilizations, we watch the King is a Badass become, the President is the Face of State.