Not saving NPC dignity

18 September, 2011 at 9:48 pm (actual play, Amber, game mastering) (, , , , , )

So, we were playing Amber. There is this one NPC, lady A!Gyre of the house Meria, that holds a lot of very limited power and has been using it once or twice. She is also hidden in a place that is very hard to reach, even for Amberites.  And nobody knew she was there.

One of the player characters got in the contact with agyre. The form of contact was conversation through an old TV display, barely capable of showing colours. The picture was blurry. And on the other side there is this woman-like entity sitting on a far too tall black throne. She has a black featureless mask covering her face, and is made of stone, is the colour of stone, or is just covered with dust.

Some negotiation about who built this certain trap, and a’Gyre demands something in exchange for the information. Simeon, the character who had in his life played the part of Bond-like secret agent, offers a hot night (as reads in the session log – the exact phrase I can’t recall).

A_Gyr had not moved from her seat in ages, so the offer was surprising. She was a fairly unknown chaos entity, so it was surprising to me, the GM.

The two did end up in bed, but we not comfortable with playing through that. I and the player in question did play it out a bit – not the physical stuff, but more the emotional side and building trust and psychical meddling that happened.

Saying yes

My typical preparation for the Amber game is as follows: I have a list of stats for the NPCs, I know what many of them are up to, I have a relationship map which illustrates some of that. Further, I have the next scene for each character somewhat prepared, based on what their plans were at the end of the last session. I may also have a random scene or a few ready, for when the circumstances make it possible (if some NPC has prepared it) or when a good opportunity arises.

I also know, with varying levels of details, what has happened in the past. I also know something about how different powers and items of power function, but exploring this is a significant part of play, so much of it is unknown to me.

I knew a little about aGyre’s motivations, but nothing about personality. Would she accept Simeon’s offer? Could have gone either way, so I left it open for a bit, but than later said yes. In very certain terms – Simeon was at her court, such as it was, full of monsters and entities of unknown powers and intentions.

Status quo?

In Apocalypse world, one of the principles is to look at everything through crosshairs. Consider killing whoever your attention lands on, and do not try to maintain the dignity of NPCs. This does not translate to Amber as such as especially the elder Amberites demand some extra consideration, but in the situation – why not? I don’t have a precious plot to save, so why try to maintain status quo, and not let an adventurous Amberite get it on with a lady of a Chaosite house?

This is something for me to think about, and for something for other game masters to also consider, supposing they are playing a game where big and powerful NPCs roam the lands. Should there be a status quo that you strive to maintain? Why not let the player characters kill Elminster (or maybe fuck Elminster) – the consequences will create enough material to run the game for next sequence of sessions, and the players will be happy. Maybe I’ll look at the elder Amberites through crosshairs – blood curses expected.

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Metagaming in Amber

1 July, 2011 at 8:46 am (Amber, game mastering) (, , , )

In my Amber game, none of the players are familiar with the setting. None. I am, somewhat, and thus far sufficiently.

So, we start with the standard amnesiac plot – you are all prisoners in this facility and know nothing. Have fun.

The players of course knew what I told them during character creation. I also told them to freely read the rulebook, and if they happen to read Amber material online, that is also completely okay. Their characters recover their memories to the extent that the players find out about things. They should still note that my Amber is, by necessity, not the official Amber, as I don’t remember that well enough. So their characters might have misconceptions and remember falsities. I get all that for free by allowing metagaming in these ways.

The organisation which imprisoned the player characters is (heavily inspired by) the SCP foundation. They have, for example, already had several encounters with [REDACTED], have sort of allied themselves with certain employee of the foundation, and attacked it more than once, generally pretty unsuccesfully due to lack of preparation and disparity in manpower. I have stated that they are free to read any stuff found there and use it to their own advantage, though my SCP foundation is not exactly what they find there, as before.

As a game master it takes some trying to not simply tell things or hint at them or whatever, especially when not playing. Games with serious secrets and hidden information are pretty much unlike the games I usually run, where there is certainly unknown information, but revealing it is not a problem. Here hidden information and not knowing are parts of the game. We also theoretically use secret notes, though actual use has been sparse, mostly due to old habit of not using them at all. I should send some dummy ones. And some proper ones, too.

As with all things, claiming that metagaming is good or bad is useless. In this case, it is mostly desired, but players are also free to stick with what their characters know. It might even be more fun that way, depending on the player. Players are free to make the call either way.

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Now running: Amber diceless

8 June, 2011 at 10:34 pm (Amber, game mastering) (, )

I’ve been playing in several fairly short games with the Monday rpg group, but now I have again managed to start running a game, or maybe even a campaign, with some energy to it. We’ve played five sessions thus far. The players are Aleksi, Henrik, Mikko and one who on the internet goes by the name of Thalin.

Amber diceless is based on the Amber books by Roger Zelazny that seem to be quite obscure hereabouts, which is sort of pity. I read the roleplaying game first, then at some point (it has been more than five years, I suppose) read the books when Gastogh bought them, and then reread the rpg. Recently Thalin gave the rpg to me, or, rather, I saved it from an unknown destiny when Thalin moved.

Some mild spoilers about the books follow.

The cosmology of Amber is vast. There is a central pole, the city of Amber itself, which (simplifying and lying a bit) represents order. On the far edges of the multiverse there are the Courts of Chaos and behind them there is the Abyss, vast nothingness. Between these are innumerable shadows (of Amber), each of which is a world or a universe in and of itself. Our world, the shadow Earth, is one of them. The entire setting of Planescape presumably is one of them. Amberites can walk from shadow to shadow – they can, for example, find a shadow of their desire by starting anywhere and shifting between shadows until they get there. So, the multiverse or the cosmology or whatever is, well, quite large. There are philosophical issues and details that I choose to omit, as they are not really relevant until someone starts seriously playing around with the Pattern, i.e. the power of walking between shadows.

More accurately, almost all Amberites can walk through shadows. Of the four characters, one has in public admitted to having the power. This is somewhat due to the peculiar character creation rules and certain psychological factors, I presume, but more on those later.

Amber diceless is actually a diceless rpg. It does not use any other randomiser or bidding system or other complicated resolution system, either. Characters have attributes and they are compared. In a fair fight, the higher attribute wins. In practice, what the play is about is not having a fair fight. This can be accomplished by manipulating the fiction and using certain mechanical powers, more on which later.

For reference: The game was published in 1991 and was designed by Erick Wujcik. One interested in its design philosophy could do worse than read Wujcik’s article on diceless roleplaying. The articles is short and though it is hosted on the Forge, there’s never any GNS mentioned. Really.

I do also intend this article to mark the rebirth of my humble blog. Let us see how it goes.

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