Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Amber Diceless/Lords of Gossamer & Shadow: Play on Target Special Ep 4

On Saturday we did a special episode of Play on Target for RPG Geek’s VirtuaCon. If you’ve listened to the show, you know Brian’s love of Amber Diceless. Since we had two co-hosts out, we decided to do another game-focus episode (as we’d done with Changeling the Lost). In this we were lucky enough to be joined by Kristin Hunt, Jeff Miller, Steve Russell, and Phil Vecchione. You can grab the podcast at the link below. Also you can watch the panel's video here. In the episode we cover our experiences with Amber and Lords of Gossamer & Shadow, why diceless, and what the new game adds. BTW VirtuaCon '14 was one of the best convention experiences I've had online or IRL. If you didn't go this year, check it out next year. 

As I mention at the start of the episode, my own Amber experience begins with missed opportunities. Several times I had the chance to play with designer Eric Wujick and his immediate crew at Michicon and Windsor in the late 1980’s, early ‘90s. My friend Paul played in several sessions and reported back to me. He told me about a completely narrativist, diceless games. Anyone could make up anything and the GM simply worked it in.

And I poo-poo’d it.

I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was in the middle of running GURPS, Champions, and Rolemaster. When I found a setting I liked but the system wasn’t up to snuff, I immediately tried to figure out what Arms Law weapon charts would fit. Or how to do create character templates for it in Hero System. Amber sounded like lunacy. Sheer lunacy.

I simply couldn’t grok it. I mean it seemed like the system meant that the players could do whatever they wanted. How the eff would I prepare for that? I needed my precious notes, planning, storylines, battle set ups, etc.

Or just as bad- the game would allow the GM to simply do whatever they wanted to the players. They could be cruel, vindictive, revel in the their despair. I knew that would happen because that’s what I would do. I mean I wouldn’t do it. Not really, but I also knew my potential to be That Guy. I’d played in games with terrible GMs who demonstrated favoritism and ignored our input. If those GMs existed then it followed that this game couldn’t work. It was a line of thinking I used to dismiss a ton of interesting ideas in those years.

At some point I got better. At some point I got brave and tried these things and found I enjoyed them- and the world didn’t collapse. Diceless and more shared power games might not be for everyone, but my experiences there enriched my gaming and I think made me a stronger GM.

I’ve run Amber a few times, in one case a short campaign with three players. It began in a modern world, with the players discovering over time that they were children of Courts and learning about their powers. However I also ran three Amber Throne Wars.

They’re brilliant. Have a group of role-players and don’t have some kind of LARP ready to throw them into? Or perhaps they object to the concept of a LARP? Run a Throne War for them. The King is dead and suddenly everyone wants to seize power. The best part of the Throne War is the auction which pits the players directly in conflict right from the start. I can get people to bid, bid, and bid some more. It’s a delight. Then you simply let them loose at one another for a few hours. I ran it with a dozen+ people one time and it remains one of my fav sessions.

One player opted to bid low in most of the stat rounds. Instead he focused on various Chaos magics and such. Once we got to the actual moving around and playing, everyone broke off and began to plot, negotiate, and backstab one another. This player offered others some of the Klondike bars he’d brought and stored in the freezer. Once he’d finished distributing the tasty delights over the course of an hour he sent me a note. It detailed everyone he’d given the ice cream to and how precisely his character had spiked it. A little meta, but it ended up being amusing since he got killed off before he could bring that to fruition.

There’s a moment in the episode when something finally clicks for me. Kristin’s describing the infinite possibilities of the different worlds. I’d always known that about the game and the setting. But for some reason in my head I still had some fairly conventional ideas. I hate to say it, but I pictured pretty plain settings- pass-through places. Some of that comes from the original Amber novels. Except for some of the high weirdness of the last race through Chaos, there’s a focus on Western fantasy tropes. But Kristin mentioned doing Shadow of Colossus as a game world and suddenly everything clicked. That these worlds could be truly novel and strange- and have stakes in them. They could be more than resources or sites for a brief scene. I suspect that’s part of what LoGS brings to the table- more weight to these worlds.

If you like RPG Gaming podcasts, I hope you'll check it out. We take a focused approach- tackling a single topic each episode. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the podcast's page at 

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