I started an Amber game. One of the players was okay with playing but not too enthusiastic, one was very enthusiastic, and three others something in between. One of them was going too leave at some point.
One of the players, the enthusiastic one, wanted a political game with secret actions, players against each other and also against environment. Why not, for does not the rulebook also suggest that? He suggested playing between games by email, and so I implemented that. To make things even more interesting, I decided to recruit some background players who would play non-player characters of their choosing or design. This would also happen between sessions.
It turned out that not one of the players actually contributed substantially between games, in any way, not even the one who had suggested this. The organisation of the game was geared towards making this kind of game happen, and it became quite cumbersome and unmotivating when the players were not engaging with the game between sessions.
The background players did their jobs better than I could have hoped, and they did contribute. For a game of political scheming and plotting I will in the future consider similar implementations. I could have tied them more closely to the player characters and each other.
Also, in retrospect it is easy to see that the players, though enthusiastic at the table, were not generally very comfortable with using email for long messages, or responding promptly. Maybe some other players in some distant future will show more interest towards this kind of play.
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.
Briefly: Use the same short description over and over again to describe something that is or will be significant.
This is a trick learned from Ludosofy‘s Runequest game. There was a shaman in his hut. Our characters knocked on the door, the shaman (eventually) opened it, checked who was intruding, turned and walked inside, leaving the door open. This happened whenever our characters met the shaman. The phrase Ludosofy used to describe the event were almost the same, or maybe even exactly the same.
The descriptive trick creates an expectation and catches attention. Attention is naturally powerful – this trick can be used to create a clear vision of some place or character. Acting contrary to expectations is an effective way of creating a sense of foreboding – the shaman greeting us and not going inside in silence would have had us assuming a ploy of some kind. Creating a pattern and breaking it could be used to evoke the elusive beast that is horror.
Using the same short description over and over again to describe something that is or will be significant also enhances the potential of it being turned into an inside joke or story. Such inside jokes are can strengthen one’s role as a member of a group or clique, which might or might not be desirable.
Do remember to keep the description short, and don’t do it with everything.
I have up to this point game mastered three, I think, sessions proper of Dogs (hereafter DitV) plus one character generation session. There is a pool of six players (plus me as the GM) and we handwave why the cast of characters changes between sessions.
- DitV is actually well-designed. Both the rules and the setting are. The writing is very conversational, which I occasionally find demanding to interpret, but most of the time the text is clear and entertaining enough.
- Dogs is a game about religion. It is not a game that defends or attacks religion. This I find both rare and refreshing.
- Dogs works well with three or four players. I think I actually prefer three. No testing with two or merely one player. (Plus the GM.)
- The town creation rules work. Following them is recommended.
- The game works best when one is trying to play it honestly – don’t create a tricky character to begin with (that will come with play), don’t create a caricature, but do try to honestly fix the towns and their problems. Playing inquisition is trivial.
- DitV is difficult to game master. One should be able to play generally more than four actually different characters and make them somewhat compelling and sympathetic. This is beyond my skills, but one learns by doing.
- Do call player characters by name. Always. All the time. It helps to establish the characters. Also, non-player characters. Don’t be ashamed of the names you or others come up with – just use them.
Here’s something I’m planning to do. There are six players total. After each session there is a moment for reflection. Here’s my plan: an entire session for reflection, socialisation between the players and free roleplay. Some possibilities within the fiction: A city where everything is okay. Return to Bridal Falls (where everything is okay). Number of players would be up to six. Probably no or very few dice used. Players sitting in a circle or semicircle rather than around a table other obstacle. Maybe even players freely roaming about.
My modest apartment is too small for this, I fear, but maybe sometimes, somewhere.
For some games I’ve been using background music in games. I generally don’t want to fiddle with computer while gaming, so optimally I construct a playlist that the computer can play in the background as we happily roleplay. The problem, of course, is finding or building suitable playlists. Luckily, one of my friend is pretty good at finding suitable background music, even if he prefers fairly epic music.
Mood and so on are the normal cited benefits of background music. I also use it as an improvisational tool: A significant change in the tone of background music is a good cue for making similar change in gameplay. Works as long as the music doesn’t change dramatically too often.
Arcana and Dargaard are great for dark and fairly ambient background music. Darkwave is the genre, I think, but I’m not expert on those. There is chanting, melodic music and rarely singing.
Ambient in general is fairly usable; for example, check Dreamstate.
Of course, sometimes someone else has done all the work and you can simply play it. Last.fm is free for some time still, hence it can be used. The best bet is to find a suitable tag or user who listens to very specific music.
In this post I will explain how I have prepared and do prepare for this game. The premise is that three mages (number may change still) are banished from the city of Carcassonne and they will build something resembling a settlement and probably get involved in the local politics (such as who banished them and why) and then there’s the issue of Catharism and the Catholic church and potentially upcoming crusade. Year 1200 + few more.
Chris Owens, a messianic leader of a hedonistic cult, whose tenets of faith are pretty much diametrically opposed to both the Catharism and Christianity of that age; venerates Rex Mundi (the Demiurge) whom Cathars believe to be the evil creator of the physical world. They believe that Rex Mundi was created bythe true God (along with other heavenly beings) and tried to do the same, hence creating humanity, but being imperfect made the world an evil place it is; very gnostic of them. Chris has perpetual wounds that will not heal and entered the other world in a tower full of all vices that were not enough for him.
Philippe, an experienced soldier who was kindly asked to leve his mercenary company due to issues of witchcraft; he feels no pain and originally entered the other world by being almost killed, or maybe even completely killed. Can see dead people. Can also make people dead.
The third character was once a doctor but failed healing a key patient, whose relatives took their revenge by stabbing his eyes with sharp objects; hence, blindness. Afterwards he was a beggar for quite some time, whom local monastery kept alive by offering shelter at night. One night tehre was an unearthly wind and he followed it; there he bargained a gift of scrying for the mere price of his name.
They were driven away from Carcassonne and mostly by accident banded together (community is everything; a single champion is nothing, at least so the conventional wisdom goes). Chris, being well-connected, knew one of the local vine producers and arranged for some shelter for the night.
We’ll start actually playing later today.
I fear that the rules allow for too easy success; if that becomes an issue, I’ll negotiate to alter them. People have been giving each other tokens which is a definite plus. For the Finnish audience: Nappuloita, in reference to “älä paina nappulaa”, which references the “child pornography” censorship.
My players may want to stop reading now. There will be potential and actual spoilers. Read the rest of this entry »