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.


Lords of Gossamer and Shadow (LoGaS), forum postings, examples of play

For those out there with more interest in the new diceless rules set following on the traditions of Amber Diceless, there is this active forum.

I have also created the LoGaS category for all my own comments and gaming notes.

So far, my convention game, “The Pendrad: Liquid Shining Universe”, is my opening mashup of Amber Diceless and LoGaS.

More on that later.

Exported, Imported

This is a test. Putting my long standing posts about gaming and Zelazny’s Amber novels into this form is a bit clumsy.

I spent lots and lots of time getting my old blog to visually mesh with the material. Sadly, I do not have the time to fix the broken comments or old links there. This is sorta the backup plan.

I’m not sure it shall go forward. It is a test. Looks keen.

Thanks for asking!

10 years… blowing dust off the sidebar

ahem… tap, tap, tap
can you hear me?
Well, the links are so rusty. Blogroll just died and my delicious really isn’t set up to replace it… and… well, I’m in a mellow place where I don’t know that I’ve got much more to say about Zelazny that you have not heard before.
So, I sorted and corrected a couple things.
If you find something you’d like to see corrected, send me a note at

Mr Telling

In my journeys, it the small things that define a gentleman’s attention. And graces allow, the meetings of strangers will speak the best introduction to culture.
Mr Zanzibar mentioned this ‘ning’ to me on a walkway in Caledon. The Google butler did its usual good work and secured an entry to your society. Here I am and asked to say something about myself.
Please call me Mr Telling.
I am settled in Caledon, first as a sailor on its waters, then as a renter in Port Caledon and now as a part owner in a Regency plot. I am a romancer of the vistas in Caledon. I am captured by its spirit and often walk alone among its shops and wonders.
I have yet to visit New Babbage, a situation which will be remedied very shortly.
I am the oldest of 47 children. I have been a flier since before my siblings were born. The country of my birth is simply lost in the many pathways I have traveled. I know that I shall never see it again. It may no longer exist.
My last name is not Telling, having been born without a surname, you see. But in these charming lands I am Mr Telling and quite happy of it. ‘Mr Telling’ has a sound of companionship–where a stranger might offer you membership in some wholly new experience just as you stroll a park hoping to catch another wonderful sunset.
If you have need of more than this, we shall speak of it some day soon, I’m sure.

bb.bbboy.net suxs

In the world of misfortunes, it is a mere wrinkle
but the years of Amber material on Shadows of Amber forum are gone through error by bbboy.net

Look here for the new place Shadows of Amber
In the various 40+ links in my archives, you will always end up at the new location, but those threads are lost.