#acus2018, the games played

An extraordinary Ambercon where all games were above average (and this is a crowd of great roleplayers) and the fun was wall to wall. I ran 4 games and played 4 games. I even got almost enough sleep!

Slot 1. Agents of the Argent Rose: City of Oaths (GM me)

A really fast-paced chapter in ongoing adventures, all inside the Palace this year.

The Team working on peeling back the secrets of the world Grandpa Corwin has created. Somehow he’s forgotten important things about its creation and he’s so cagey, has he really forgotten, or is there something there he doesn’t want to talk about?

The Team dug deeper and deeper. Everyone seems pretty sure that Grayswandir has something to do with the entire mess. But the Goddess Kali hints that the wedding of Lorelei and Corwin itself may be part of the origins of the troubles.

Vivian and Venkatta vacuum up all military intel of the Stigma history across the globe.

America seems to be coming apart under influence of Stigma. Kali is offered an escape from Corwin’s confinement of all to the Palace, and immediately takes it.

The Team takes a lead from Simone and goes to find the Trump cards locked in Corwin’s study. Three locked draws exist there. The first yields Trumps, 4 with white unicorn backs and one with red serpent back. Simone recognizes the unhandsome man who spoke to Corwin briefly in years past.

Locked drawer two yields a silver serpent in mobius loop. Not familiar at all.

Locked drawer three yields a silver feather that smells of ozone.

Spells are released as each drawer is broken into. Each spell seems different from the others, surely as if placed by different people.

Corwin arrives, more questions are had, but when Corwin doesn’t recall the Trumps or any of the items, everyone recognizes the worst case: something powerful is messing with the Realm.

Explosions and violence follow, two of the items try to escape, the feather is briefly used to quiet the serpent.

Team members and grandpa are seriously injured and Lucien saves the day, sorta.

Slot 2. Agents Extraordinary: 1968

Fun for any addict of 60s spy themes.

John Drake has gone rogue, killing agents, and vanishing in Europe. Modesty Blaise follows clues from New York to Vienna. Modesty also sends Illya Kuryakin clues. Drake tries to meetup, but since Modesty doesn’t want to join the agents in peril list, she sends an actress/messenger who arranges a quieter meeting with Drake for the next morning.

Before any of that can happen, most of the Agents Extraordinary also arrive in Vienna. Will they arrest Drake? Will Drake kill Modesty? Will we ever not be paranoid? Will Felix Leiter get to enjoy his vacation? NO!

Everyone is captured and sent to the Village! Stay tuned for next year!

Slot 3. The Kraken Retrieval Squad

Themed off Rebma and very loosely based on the A-team adventures, this was a pretty good romp. Got to meet some new players to me, which is always part of my aim in taking on GMs and games new to me.

My character was seriously a trouble magnet the whole time. I think the team was half hoping I’d get thrown in a dungeon.

Overall a very interesting mix, which fulfilled the A-team style, I thought.

Barca, master of disguise, Garner, master scrounger, Howling Mad Kodrum, trump specialist, Ms Grazie, master of height and muscle, Joss Sloan, charming rogue with cunning plans, and S’Mestra, trouble magnet.

We had a grand military parade of Rebma’s might. The Kraken broke free and our not-charming Rebman handler, Tiberius, screamed at us like it was our fault.

Ya, we fixed it all up. Of course.

Slot 4. LoGaS: Gossamer Alternity! (GM me)

I took a stab at putting a new alien race (Kinz) in the Grand Stair to see if such adventures would play out well.

I got a bigger response than expected (meaning the game actually ran) and the players did well by the concept.

A twisty variant of LoGaS.  Prepare a 50 pt character with the LoGaS (Lords of Gossamer and Shadow) rules. Note that Kinz are able to understand any intelligent beings, even humans. Speaking to other intelligent beings requires Exegesis. Make a point on your PC submittal if you do NOT have Exegesis. Characters submitted 3 weeks before the con get to use 70 pts.Note! Kinz characters must have less than nine lives remaining, but your stats are based on your original life and points above. Players decide how many lives remain. Your previous deaths will bonus your stats, so please include descriptions of your previous deaths so the GM can calculate your fame and game stats. GM will not ask for your Kinz‘ Secret Name, however, if you share your Personal Name with other members of the mission, you will have Icon contact possible during the mission and beyond.No readings of T. S. Eliot’s book ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ are required to enjoy this game.

And then shared some additional items with Players in an email before the con to buff up creating the PCs.

there are three broad backgrounds/clans of Kinz you can associate your PC with (or provide your own small tribe background)

so curious, such explorers, they originally came from parched dusty climes but have spread all over the Stair because they always seek what is over the next Door threshold

so mad, such minds, they originally lived in mountain forests but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to hear new stories

so feisty, such many scars, they originally lived in cities but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to test themselves

After a few questions, and based on some chat in the LoGaS Facebook group, I added a cultural background, etc.

Since the Kinz are smaller and crafty, they rely often on being mistaken for cats and left alone to gather information or wander around listening. Even if you had the same stats as an amberite or a gossamer lord, you have a hard time fighting them on equal footing. You weigh 20 pounds top range, and those pesky two legs are usually 6 to 12 times bigger. That mass makes a difference to your Strength and Warfare. However, you can confer abilities (or Artifacts) on your Kinz that will translate also upon death, as that becomes part of your legend.

The Alternity is a mind state inside of the Stair and Gossamer worlds. Humanoids generally dream there but don’t recall anything about it. Exceptional people can travel in the Alternity, or adventure there, where dangerous ideas are found. One such dangerous idea is killing the Grand Stair. Kinz can with effort drag humanoids etc. into the Alternity, but then they may remember the journey, so it is not done often. Children are easier to work with than adults.

That’s pretty much the mission. Find out who/what/how someone is planning to kill the Stair.

and finally just before the con, a big summary:

KINZ summary:

culture with internal conflicts

the Kinz respect the Grand Stair by tradition. They originate from at least three gossamer worlds within the Stair network. Studies are inconclusive as to which world might be the ultimate origin of Kinz. Loosely speaking, the Shamans, Bards, and Scouts correspond to the mini-cultures of those three worlds, but there are also at least five other worlds not as old that have their own tribes. So far there has never been a civil war, and the (Kinz) Council has three Speaker seats for every gossamer world of the Kinz. Day to Day, the Kinz are much about their own agendas and passions. This also means they are polite but not overly ‘team players’ until a crisis presents itself. The Family is more important than Politics. Religion is a loose idea that only has a loose following, mostly centered on the Venerables and Bastet.

a non-human perspective that has its own logic

the Kinz seem to have always recognized the Alternity. Within the Alternity, they realized that other sentient species had a part in a Grand Design. However, it has been disappointing to discover that most other sentient species do not process the Alternity or work against the horde of Bad Ideas that thrive there. In fact, many of the Bad Ideas have been proven to come from other sentients. This leads the Kinz to treat with most TwoLegs as if they are ….immature species. There is Chowder (read Council) debate regards finding partners in the Grand Stair who can help to manage the Bad Ideas.

hierarchy with unusual authority/positions

Kinz generally defer to their own kind who have died more times. Which is to say, they are polite and listen to opinions. Only those Kinz who have died 8 times are considered Venerables. Dying more than 5 times confers Elder to your honorifics (as you are headed into your few remaining lives.) No Kinz has ever lived more than 9 lives. However, it is said that some rare cases, the Kinz who have best lived their 9 lives may exist in the Alternity after their final death.

child raising and reproductive culture

Due to death, gender change, or demands of the Alternity, and with an Understanding that young children are perceptive of the Alternity, raising children is a task given to the older experienced parent once the children are weaned. It is very common for the First Adventure to be led by the Guardian Parent. Assistance from the Blood Parent is not expected nor demanded, but Adoptive Parents or Grandparents will often participate.

gender identity

Kinz recognize five genders, two of which (female & mischief) can bear young:
Female / shows all the physical sides of warm-blooded child carry and reproduction
Male / shows all the physical sides of planting seed for children
Mischief / shows both physical sides of child reproduction but cannot impregnate self (intersexual)
Topsy / shows no physical gender traits at all, with no sex interests, but may find a partner that inspires a gender transformation to another gender state
Yowl / may show physical gender traits but has no interest or ability to reproduce unless Circumstantial

history and place on the stair

the Infinite Stair was first mind-mapped by Bastet, who later became a Goddess of the Alternity, or just a really powerful dead female (PC choice)
Bastet was part of the early culture meld of the three worlds of Kinz
Bastet believes that the Grand Stair favors Kinz and needs their assistance, and she also says she can talk to it, go figure!
Kinz respect a symbiotic relationship with the Stair

Since the Kinz are smaller and crafty, they rely often on being mistaken for cats and left alone to gather information or wander around listening.

Even if you had the same stats as an Amberite or a gossamer lord, you have a hard time fighting them on equal footing.

You weigh 20 pounds tops, two legs are usually 6 to 12 times bigger. That mass makes a difference.

However, you can confer abilities (or Artifacts) on your Kinz that will translate also upon death, as that becomes part of your legend


The Alternity is a mind state inside of the Stair and Gossamer worlds. Humanoids generally dream there but don’t recall anything about it. Exceptional people can travel in the Alternity, or adventure there, where dangerous ideas are found. Kinz can with effort drag humanoids etc into the Alternity, but then they may remember the journey, so it is not done often. Children are easier to work with than adults.

crafts/arts/music that is not human

Kinz love to tell stories and sing
Kinz have opposable thumb pads (4) and dew claw
they will make complex musical instruments to enhance their stories (they rarely carry around their prized instruments)
the culture is not tool-based, but Kinz love to create things and are good at whittling and/or sculpture


four legs are the major dexterity mode for the Kinz (if your attributes are above Paragon, it won’t matter much to normal actions, if you sell down, there will be limits)
opposable finger pads (four thumbs)— meaning they have no problem using tools, or picking things up, they also wield retractable claws
!do not make overpowered!

average Kinz is small and no more than 20 pounds
they are nimble and quite athletic but prefer to sleep in short bursts that allow them to monitor the Alternity
they are quite self-sufficient and generally, do not carry tools or other burdens

!multiple lives!

Kinz have nine lives, when fatally injured, they surge with Alternity energy and regenerate into a new body
the new body can be different in size, gender, markings, etc, but will retain your Attributes et al

they will regenerate in the vicinity of their death but rarely into a deadly environ

!avoid monoculture

Players are encouraged to devise their own tribe/gossamer world if they want to take on that task for PC design

Scouts/Navigators, world Riverhunt

so curious, such explorers, they originally came from parched dusty climes but have spread all over the Stair because they always seek what is over the next Door threshold

Sages/Shamans, world Monastery

so mad, such minds, they originally lived in mountain forests but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to hear new stories

Bards/Brawlers, world Shenanigans

so feisty, such many scars, they originally lived in relic cities but have spread all over the Stair because they always need to test themselves

Slot 5. Pendrad: Labyrinth! (GM me)

A serial game running about 4 times now. This year, a rescue mission to find or bury missing agents of the Fae Khans.

Again, this is the GM adding complexities of Amber and Chaos to the Grand Stair rule set. Not something you are likely to see in other games. The Fae are quite flexible and powerful compared to your average Stair dweller or PC.

Everyone did a smash up job.

Slot 6. They Fight Crime! (Space Opera Edition)

the GM created an alternate version of Firefly for the PCs to adventure in using James Arnoldi’s Key RPG system. The game system worked very well.

With a random selection of pregen characters, we all started right away with immersing into our roles. The twist was we each got a secret Motivation from the Player on our right to incorporate into the play. It seemed to work well for everyone.

Robin Grant, Captain of the space freighter Odyssey

Vincent ‘Ernie’ Grant, Hot Gunman for Hire

Vivian Hill, crusty engineer

Meer’Ton, alien hot-shot pilot

Prince Rutann of Zircon, tourist charming rogue

Dr Peter Tanner, medic and guy protecting his sister

Miserly Tanner, psychic waif of illegal Federation experiments

It’s been a long time since I’ve played in James’ Key system, and this seemed a smoother ride than I expected. There are Flaws to disadvantage you, and Keys to advantage your Expertise in six Attributes. A pretty slick package that works fast.

The parts were juicy ones, and everyone seemed to have a very good time. Viv was heroic, the Captain was steely and uber-competent, Ernie was loud and full of action/ideas/menace, while Meer’Ton, the Prince, and Dr. Peter were all played by the GM as some folks got pulled from the game by Real Life conflicts.

By chance, I got the random draw I would have picked anyhow, Miserly was the wild card in the crew, her actions always being a bit unproductive and distracting.

Our choices started out bad and got worse as we went along, one step ahead of disaster or being broke and stuck in on a station/world. We crashed in and out of several worlds, and situations, one step ahead of the law in some cases. In the end, we lost the Prince and pilot to the story line (they left for greener pastures) but the Feds never caught us.

A clever bunch of roleplaying kept us ahead of complete calamity. A good crew.

Special note here, the GM was feeling poorly and might have canceled the game, but he found a special reserve of awesome and we all had a great time.

Slot 7. Dark Water: The Company 2018

Serial consequences on the Grand Stair. A new team, more players than ever before, and this game came out very well.

The Company is a team of low-level mercenaries who are tracking fallout from an original adventure on the found Fountain of Youth. The water there turned out to be anything but friendly. Several adventures now have circled around how getting rid of the original problem has spread issues to other Doors.

This year it was gossamer Phoenix’s turn to be checked and cleared.

The good news, Prof Nine-thousand Entry 3 (9KE3) finished grading all the semester papers during the adventure, AND helped solve a knotty logistical problem in Phoenix. YaY us! The princess was saved. The world was rebalanced. We had a party!


Slot 8. Soft Cimmerian: No Mirror Has Two Sides (GM me)

Well… this was the ninth? outing of the Soft Cimmerian game, now a closed-game not open to new players. #softcimmerian #acus2018

the plot was a bit of social ninja work by one PC who can mask his presence from those of lesser Psyche, so he shared out a tale of anxiety and mystery: the crown princess seemed to have an aura that paled and wavered on social occasions. Eventual reveal: the 8-year-old was dying of a rare Chaosi war-poison. She’d been harmed right under the noses of all her significant security layers.

Lots and lots of interesting reveals to Rebma history, the burden of thrones, and how complex Rebma politics can be as a comparison to what is known about Amber politics (reflection of, where the King is always right.) Moire is not always right.

A scary plot that could have broken important NPCs or seen some dead— if the Gallants of the Glass did not do some very heroic measures. So they did commit fully and wove a great story through the minefield of plot tragedy.


ranks, narrative power, LoGaS and Amber Diceless

LoGaSThe Rules As Written for Lords of Gossamer and Shadow are clear, the Attribute Auction establishes the ranks of skill for all the Players, and then the GM can create his NPC cast based on that ladder of ranks.

Oh, but what happens if someone joins the game in two months? You have to squeeze them into the ladder of ranks. That’s a bit awkward.

And what if you have been playing for 18 months and the NPC cast is now over a hundred people? How many NPCs of 2.5 rank or 1.5 rank or secret new 1 rank is the GM going to track? And how many dead ties between Attributes have you now created?

And what happens if you go to a gaming convention and the GM starts everyone with a pile of points because auctions take too long? Well, you can build the ladder after everyone does their point builds in secret. Also a bit awkward and it doesn’t add much to in-world play.

Bid numbers versus ranks is a long-standing GM style discussion for running diceless games. (Long standing as in going back to the earliest internet mailing lists.)

It’s complicated by those folks who want to know how much a fight staged with 2nd and 3rd rank PCs ganging up on 1st rank Strength PC, for example.

1st rank is still going to win, but how close is it?

Some long time ago, I had a web reference page for something I called ‘story values’, which is basically narrative ranks, or scale of Attributes for the campaign. The Rules As Written include an overall real-world relationship for Mortal, Superior, and Paragon ranks. And that’s where I start for scaling what’s not said in the rules (ie, much higher ranks.)

Why scale up practical in-game effects when the rules already tell you who is going to win? Does it matter exactly how strong someone’s Attribute is if it is clear they are the winner? I think it does matter for immersion and the practical side of letting a PC plan their actions out. The best diceless play is when system disappears for the Players (IMHO). Practical, easy to remember scale of Attributes helps this immensely.

So here’s a chart captured from the Wayback Machine, a scale of narrative ranks as they stand in my Amber Diceless games:


The 3 columns to the right include the scales of artifacts/items, Attribute numbers, and ‘story value’ or a real-world feat scale. Mortal (average healthy) equals practical 1 rank scale.

Application is, a Player who decided to not spend points on Strength, has Amber rank, which is 4 times better than Mortal. Meaning that Strength moves 4 times more stuff than what you’d expect a human to move. Easily then, this PC knows he can toss humans out of his way, but is not stronger than 5 mortals working together.

Then the rest follows, based on what trial and error I did those years ago: Prince Gerard (depending on how the points were handed out by the GM) could easily toss young Amber royals out of his way, being 16 times stronger than Mortal and 4 times stronger than PCs who bid no points in Strength.

The chart was a big success for me, because it made Attribute contests flow very quickly. It also allowed Players to ‘feel’ for their capabilities before the game ever started. It also could help during an auction bid process, but that was not its purpose in design.

The chart begins to address lots of conflict issues. Two PCs with heavy investment in Strength, let’s say 25 points, are nearly as strong as Gerard when teaming against him. Do they have his skill? No.

I brought this info out of the dusty nowheres of history as a bookmark to discussion and future commentary.

Talk to your GM in session zero before the game starts about the baseline of such rules in play.

wayfinding, zero dice infinite worlds

Three small paragraphs in the rule set describe the power of Wayfinding for a Warden of the Stair.

Wayfinding. Wardens have an instinctual understanding of where a mundane door leads, or where one of the Doors of the Grand Stair opens to. This ability is like an internal compass, leading the character in a needed or desired direction. It can be countered through some of the disciplines used by Masters of the Grand Stair.

Wayfinding can be used in the Gossamer worlds, Domains, and within the Grand Stair’s entire span (though there are parts of the Grand Stair where it is possible to get lost, even with this ability).

With the Wayfinding ability, a Warden can find a specific place within the Gossamer worlds if the Warden has some idea about the nature of the place or even one specific part of it. Additionally, the Warden can find an ideal Gossamer world that suits a particular criteria, no matter how idiosyncratic that criteria may be. If the Gossamer world has Doors, the Grand Stair can open into it, and a Warden can find the way there.

This is much more powerful than shadow walking from the Amber Diceless, IMHO. However, Doors are the limiting filter. While Corwin can find a deserted tropical island paradise with plenty of food and water and rest up, a Warden can only find such a place with a working door, indicating past construction and people, that may now be gone.

Some references to shadow walking in ADRPG are here and here (Rule of Three).

Note explicitly the rules allow the Warden to find specific places inside the Gossamer world if they have information about the place they are searching for. (Whereas, sometimes returning to a specific place with shadow walking is problematic.) Wayfinding gives you a compass sense inside the world.

This is a very powerful narrative changing device. Examples follow, “GM I’d like to walk to a Door….”

  • where the #1 bestseller is “Understanding and Working With Mnemon For Dummies”
  • where the ubiquitous nanites in the air will interface with my mind and explain how to fully control my Dragon Powers!
  • where there is a huge waterfall
  • where I can find the person trying to kill the Dragon Empress


IMC, the first three examples are legit and the fourth fails. The first three exist somewhere, if not in the gossamer you are within. The fourth example imagines an indeterminate future where you will find some copy of a person from a specific set of events in a specific gossamer that has not happened yet. That does not work.

Why? Because of the Rule of Three. Because you have to imagine a baseline of three qualities to your search. Test each example above.

  • You have met Mnemon so you can picture her, her world, and what sort of personality mystery she represents. You shall find something on the Stair.
  • You know about Dragon Powers so you can imagine the Dragons, the nature of the powers, and what sort brain changes may be needed (such as neural pathways, rote practice, and additional sensory learning). You shall find something on the Stair.
  • You’ve seen waterfalls, you’ve seen mountains, and you expect they have common patterns of gravity.

How long does the search take? Well, again, ask the PC what three filters are they applying to the search and rank them. Is the huge waterfall…

  • huge, waterfall, near to me
  • waterfall, huge, safe
  • near to me, waterfall, huge
  • waterfall, huge, fresh water

The Warden is juggling these factors, putting their own ‘spin’ on the culture/experience bias and seeking within Infinity. Something will come up, but how useful it is (IMHO) would be GM finesse. Certainly, the GM is allowed to ask a few clarifying questions of the three values chosen.

And, if the PC has high Psyche, and/or Good Stuff, this will affect the ease with which the destination is revealed.

Does this mean Wardens of low Psyche cannot find complicated things? No. It does mean there is a baseline of expertise given with the Warden attunement. So start with the Rule of Three. If the Warden is very experienced (certain region of the Stair is written into the PC background, or some years walking the Stair), the GM can help out a bit with easy answers. If the Warden has bad stuff, even the baseline three things may show adverse complications along the way. If the Warden has high Psyche, you can add some qualifiers to the Rule, ask for four things, or ask the PC if they wish to avoid seeking something that is already controlled or owned by someone powerful.

Let’s return for a moment to the ‘indeterminate example’. A murder. Can you solve mysteries with the Wayfinding power? I would say yes, only if you bring puzzle pieces together and seek the missing bits.

So the Empress has been assassinated, but no one can figure out who did it. The Warden seeks to find the person responsible for a determinate event that has happened.

The Warden knows, where it happened, how the victim died, perhaps knows the murder weapon. This would count as three things to narrow a search for the murderer, understanding that the assassin might know all about Warden powers, and have left bad clues to send you on a wild goose chase! Let’s say…

  • the Empress did not die in that room, she was moved there
  • the weapon found is not the murder weapon
  • the body found is not the Empress

You can see how some mysteries will work much like other detective fiction, ie, disproving assumptions and finding the real evidence to trust.

Search times: consider the more rare or specific your search, the longer it takes for you to find what you seek. “GM, I’m going to look for a custom armor that fits me, it is invulnerable to damage, it is currently sitting in a broken abandoned castle without guards.”  You’ll get a compass response, a direction, but it may take you a year to get to the gossamer world where this thing exists. And Wayfinding rules as written does not tell you how long to find the thing you seek.

The wilder your imagination, the longer you may be looking. Or not? Perhaps the PC’s wit will provide an interesting adventure?

So, rather than waste story time chasing stuff in the Infinite Stair, I shall tell the PC, yes, you sense the direction, it is very far away. Are you going after it?

Talk to your GM in session zero before the game starts about the baseline of such powers in play.

exegesis, furthermore!

LoGaSOne of the tiny rule comments about exegesis is, you have to use the Door of a Gossamer world to tune into the languages there.

I think that logic fails for two reasons.

First, if you’ve never visited Vulcan, and you meet a Vulcan on the Stair, you don’t know what he’s saying even if you are both Wardens, as it is unlikely both Wardens have used the Door to Vulcan. I don’t think that is intended. Worse, if neither of you arrive back on Vulcan by Door (for whatever odd reason) you still can’t understand each other.

Secondly, imagine a thousand languages being spoken in the Stair. But wait, there are merchants and cargo handlers and all sorts who don’t have Warden skills. And if your Warden hasen’t been to their Door, you can’t give them instructions? Even worse, your labor help may not be able to talk to each other. And there are plenty of game stories where not everyone (or every PC) has exegesis. You may have a PC based only on sorcery or Eidolon, so the Warden has to do the translations.

I suggest a small fix that meets the intention of the rule set.

The rule is better if you just say:

Once attuned to the Grand Stair, ie, Warden, you understand any language that exists paired to a functioning Door— or in a polycultural gossamer, all native languages of that world.

A particular GM could wrinkle this by saying the further you are from the transmitting Door source, the less likely the translation works. The key to that particular complication would be narrative emphasis (mostly mine) that the Infinite Stair is very very big and you can run across people that are so far out of your region of Stair you cannot talk to them— or not talk to them well.

Kill all doors to a gossamer language source and the understanding vanishes, as it is no longer transmitted to all Wardens. Destroy a world and the language is gone as well.

If a language vanishes, someone needs to go find out what is going on!

Talk to your GM in session zero before the game starts about the baseline of such powers in play.

the greatest power of them all, exegesis!

LoGaSOne of the smallest power costs (10 pts) is Warden of the Stair. And tucked into the many abilities of the Warden of the Stair is exegesis, the ability to understand anyone within a gossamer world if you have entered the world through the Door.

You can also buy exegesis as a seperate power, see the Long Walk rule book for various power breakdowns.

Exegesis is amazingly powerful, worth the 10pts all by itself, and presents a range of narrative texture decisions for the GM to explain to players. I have to recommend GMs encourage all Players to get the power exegesis whether in the Warden package or through spending separate points. I’ll note some things here (and thanks to the LoGaS group on FaceBook for the content copy):

Does Exegesis convey meanings of words that are technical? For instance, if a character says “aortic aneurysm”, “capitalism”, “specular reflection”, or “Umbra”, would the meaning of the word or term be conveyed?

A practical way to look at exegesis (GM side if you will) is that cultural meaning is conveyed. As long as the your own culture has an equivalent for what the other person is saying, you get a meaning.

But if their world doesn’t have magic, there may be no word for it for them to get.

Two Wardens speaking together may easily overcome this effect, but Warden speaking to Fred Flintstone may have to keep the conversation basic.

Exegesis includes the meaning, but in extreme cases, you may not be passing the meaning you THINK you are. If the Warden says, “We’ve a solution to your problem but it will involve calling up Umbra.”  The native speaker may hear, “We’ve brought an answer. We will pray to the Gods and get help from Pan.”

If that’s the gist of the conversation (maybe there is an immediate lack of time to make detailed response) I don’t think the GM needs to explain anything more. And if results later are complicated by the fact the natives think you are a priest of Pan, well there you are.

So at a finer level of conversation, is “Umbra” just “force of entropy”? Is the pervasiveness and universality of concept conveyed? Can you convey to natives that your team represents “Eidolon” so you can trust us?

No, I don’t think so. I think the GM can make a short list of trans-Infinite culture terms if she/he likes, but I doubt Umbra/Eidolon/Sorcery/Invocation are on that list. I’d rule the powers in the rules are not often ‘commonly known’.

If you say, ‘I have magic!’ or ‘I will solve it with science!’, you’ll mostly be on safe ground for the common language. And this quite depends on the gossamer world where you are standing. In Shatterlight, the Grand Stair is a more commonly known abstraction and discussions about esoteric matters are more commonly understood.

Talk to your GM in session zero before the game starts about the baseline of such powers in play.

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.


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.


Broken Logrus is…. what?

You could take the hints of Logrus failures, imperfect Logrus, and various strangenesses of the Abyss and mash them together.LoGaS
Add tobasco sauce…  sorry, copying from Dworkin’s notes here.
We already know there is a pile of skulls outside the entry to the Logrus (I blame Zelazny) and so we can imagine that most forms of imperfect Logrus are even more lethal than Logrus itself. (Red wire? NO BLUE!) After all, even successful Logrus initiates deal with insanity for a long time afterwards.
So cross the streams a bit, look at Umbra from the Lords of Gossamer and Shadows… a power that is guaranteed to make you insane, reveal the flaws in everthing, rewrite you if you receive a near fatal injury, and lose control of your shapeshifting.  That sounds like screwed up Logrus to me.
And also, it is so weak that while it looks powerful to all those shadowfolks, it can be dismissed by Logrus or Pattern.
And it cannot even bring you a pizza.
Of course, if you can find a pizza shop, Broken Logrus Masters never have to PAY for pizza.