in the Shadow of Greatness


October 6, 2003

When Last We Left Our Heroes...

Sol F suggested a type of con game in the comments here: a common shared backstory for con games.

His point is that grabbing a character you love and plugging them into a one shot tends to feel a bit 'empty'. It can be hard to engage the PC removed from the elements that created him/her.

Shared worlds have had some brilliant successes in print, but often seem to 'run down' after an initial success. You could argue that they lose energy because no author can really change the joint premise or make dramatic changes in the structure. Some TV shows die for the same reason; new writers not able to sustain a narrative bridged off the initial backstory.

In a one-shot con game, you just play out a story-seed or concept and see where it goes in four to six hours. Simple, direct, and leaning heavily on the chemistry of the moment.

Many one-shots ask Players to play 'shared world' by agreeing to ignore conflicts between the PC backstory. Or 'cross world' by bringing disparate PCs together in a cosmic fracture. Both of these techniques have worked for years, yet Sol's point above is that they carry a burden. To quote:

"Filing off the serial numbers to make a generic version of a character which fits into a a generic version of the Amber universe is always going to tend to make things dull."

At cons, GMs have established continuing campaigns for depth of roleplay. Campaigns are awkward because they lean on the idea that Players will be back next year. They don't allow new folks to grab onto the story as well, or may be closed to newcomers. They make organizing games hard for the convention folks. (Imagine trying to work other game slots around getting one specific group together for the game.)

Speaking for myself, it is hard to have a great game that you only play once a year. You are either tortured by the possibilities you can't get into six hours, or you love the game but lose the energy in the course of a year.

I don't know who invented it (it may have been Sol in Blaze of Glory), but serial campaigns allow in-depth background, but presume that the roster of Players will change—or has to change because of the backstory. This has a number of nice features.

Players can return, but the premise doesn't weaken if they don't. There is a strong back story that binds the Players to their roles—unlike a normal shared world where Players ignore inconsistancies between PC concepts. And while scheduling the game is still an issue—folks realize that the game will be there next year for them, so they can try other games or run games if they want to.

A serial game can generate history and change the game world like a campaign, but keep the PCs in any one game to a managable number.

There are currently several campaigns running at various Ambercons, but there are also serial games that have had repeat success. Slowly, cons are moving away from having slots were the only games running are 'closed campaigns' (a situation that makes cons less accessible to new folks and ties veteran Players/GMs to limited choices.)

So what about a 'default Amber' that wasn't generic? Could JP's call for 'classic' Amber and Sol's idea of 'GM shared Amber' work together?

I suppose you could make the case that we already have 'default Amber' in what Zelazny gives us. The 'first series' line of reasoning is likely 'default Amber' in many people's minds. Something much like 'House of Cards' would be a splendid example.

Provide GMs casting pics of the Elders and a timeline taken from Zelazny and you can start. . . except we do that now. Or do we? Creative differences between GMs, and all that. Can we agree on a 'backbone' Amber that allows con gaming of repeated adventure? And then hand out the Elders for play again and again— throwing in a few youngers for spice?


Filed under : Amber at 06.10.2003