in the Shadow of Greatness


March 11, 2003

Star Wars or Amber?

Star Wars or Amber?
Infinite RPing possibilities?

The case for any creative story being the basis of a roleplaying game is rather simple but fraught with complications. When I was much (cough) younger, the landscape of books, movies, and TV were often the germ of a story that my sibs and I would "act out" unaware that we were playing roles but very aware we were emulating heroes. We've seen Buffy, Farscape, and Doctor Who as RPing material; some with special systems to nail down their genre. We'll probably see a Harry Potter game soon. So the first test is likely: did the story amaze and delight? I would think that Amber and Star Wars are damn fine material on this count. Zelazny and Lucas were both unable to avoid returning to the legend many times. Their personal visions of the material are well-documented. They both took possessive pride in the story, and fans of both regret the sequels in some cases. There are other similarities. In fairness, perhaps there are always similarities in mass media stories about larger-than-life characters. Amber has infinite worlds. Star Wars has a galaxy far, far away. This allows gamers to strut their stuff, GMs to do permutations, and stories to be written across the large canvas. What's the down side, if any? Well, the canon is strong stuff and part of the attraction. Powerful enough to lock gamers into "more of the same." The story moves along so fast that only hints and actions illuminate the major characters. This means GM interpretation of archetypes. If the GM leans on these archetypes too much, the Players creativity will suffer. Players of both are willing to replay events from the canon. Players might actually desire the roles already established by the authors. Gamemasters might see new stories to be told away from the canon, or want to focus on politics, morality, philosophy, and history of both evocative backgrounds... but could become trapped by the material. In a game created from scratch, nothing is certain, in a genre sketched by a successful author, changing threads can disrupt the tapestry. Amber has the scions of Oberon: powerful, contentious, and knowing strange powers. Star Wars has the dark Sith: powerful, vicious, and knowing strange powers. Amber has a range of cultures, powers, worlds, and motives, usually focused through the personal story of a gifted immortal. Star Wars has a range of territories, technology, worlds, and motives, usually focused through the personal story of a gifted student of the Force. Either can become a pale cartoon of the original if treated in cardboard fashion. In either, it might be inescapable that the stories of the Players get overshadowed by the material. As a novice GM might determine that "Brand is back," so it can be imagined that a GM could introduce a plot where "the Emperor isn't dead." (This was even done in a graphic series approved by Lucas. The Emperor had a clone ready to take his place if he died. If paid professionals can wheel out such an obvious story, why not your local game group?) Genre material is what you make of it, what you bring to it, and how generous you are with your gaming group. But neither of these example licensed properties are easier to run than a scratch world where all is mystery and potential. I don't think any licensed property could be. There are pitfalls all about. Allowing the story to be driven by NPCs instead of PCs, having the GM become so enthused about the original material that no changes can be made to the canon, or even extending the stories past all published works but not bringing anything new to the material will have your creative Players asking, "what's the point?"

Filed under : Amber at 11.03.2003