in the Shadow of Greatness


August 15, 2003

WISH 60 :: Frames of Reference

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 60: Frames of Reference How do you use different frames of reference or mindsets in your games? In what ways do your characters or NPCs in games you GM think differently from the people around you? What sorts of things make them different (societal, mental, physical, etc.)? Do you feel that you?re successful in incorporating and showing the differences?

I'm very interested in culture as it applies to Amber. I won't hit Players over the head with it, because I don't demand they adhere to my bias of RPing. I give high marks to those Players who play royal amberites who are first, of Amber, and second, well-traveled of shadow. In this, play examples of Players discovering how this must cause Characters to think differently are excellent.

Like Ginger, I have a problem with a Character who wants to introduce "modern ideas" as inherently superior (or make themselves an 'Edison' of Amber when the Character is transparently inspired by the Player and not in-game events.) At the same time—I am flexible with transport of shadow concepts into Amber (Oberon was famous for trying this when it suited him) as long as folks are reacting to them from an Amber viewpoint, not a earth-modern viewpoint. It is telling, to me, that Corwin, Merlin, Random, Frakir, and Rinaldo—our narrators—always fall back upon an Amber mindset in the way they see things, no matter how arcane or shadow-obscure their education and exposure to new things.

While I don't reject Character concepts that have amberites being raised on shadow-earth, or in science-fiction backgrounds, I am less interested in them as a GM as it is possible to get lazy about that Frame of Reference. The single most difficult pose for a Player is that there is a Real Difference between Your Royal and otherfolks.

My friends and fellow Players are too darn modern and egalitarian. They expect to be friends with the people they spend time with. So I see Royals who are asking for servants to call them by their first name. Not only this sort of thing, but if another Player comes along who's Character demonstrates a sociopathic disregard for otherfolks—peer pressure can build to curb that behavior.

There is a fine line here. For instance, the example I give above about servants.

Showing respect between classes doesn't mean that your Royal Character should use and discard servants. It doesn't mean that Psyche attacks on groomsmen and stableboys is considered 'good fun'. With power, comes great responsibility. Most Players get that part. But here's another example: novice Royals in my campaigns kill people they don't intend to. How? Why? Because if a Player says, in a desperate scene, "I have an opening? Finally! I hit the bastard as hard as I can!" That NPC is probably dead.

Why? Because most opponents are not four to eight times stronger than human—and it is my firm belief that Royals generally forget this a lot. They walk around with a "shucks, I'm not much different than you" pose.

Corwin even tries this with Bill Roth, dodging that he is human—then admitting he's not even close to human. Another example: novice Royals in my campaigns have a damned hard time making friends. Why? Well, in shadow, are you talking to the same person that you were the last time you came through this way? Have you noticed how attracted to you your new friend is? Or do you wonder if this NPC is really acting in their best interests as they help You? Another: Royals are incredibly wealthy, usually. Even if Amber's economy is stable and moves along on an advanced Renaissance footing—most Royals have had centuries to put their own assets to best use. Gerard, that good-natured fellow that seems so slow of wit—- he owns banks. He needs a new ship for the Southern Fleet and doesn't have time to go through the Treasury. He pays for it out of his own pocket.

In House of Cards, there is a simple mechanic that emulates the "mindset" issue in subtle fashion, though quite well: zero-point powers. They don't really change play or plot, but they matter. A lot.

Something similar, in con games I've been running, I ask Players to assign a one-word Expertise to each of the Attributes. Like "sleight-of-hand" for Strength. This does two things—it gives the Player immediate focus and niche for the Character, and it allows an "up one rank" show of competancy. And if there is one frame of reference that Amber games must respect and that can be a struggle to RP, it is competancy.

Filed under : Amber, Game WISH, IMC at 15.08.2003